Sunday, December 04, 2005

Good News and Bad News 

While Haaretz did report the latest Arrow missile tests as a bit of an afterthought to their "improved Scud" story, the Daily Times of Pakistan actually had more details, and an interesting extra point. First the good news:

Israel’s Defence Ministry said the test was to scrutinise the Arrow II’s improved intercept capabilities. A land-based Arrow successfully destroyed an incoming aircraft-fired missile simulating a Shahab-3, a Defence Ministry source said.

The source said the target missile had a trajectory more closely resembling the Iranian missile than in previous tests. The Arrow is the world's only system capable of intercepting missiles at atmospheric level, an advantage considered key to prevent devastating fallout from non-conventional warheads.
As someone living with his wife and children directly under those atmospheric levels, in the potential fallout zone, this sounds like a good advantage. And it is nice to hear they are testing against the specific threat that is on the strategic and physical horizon. An Arrow missile battery that could reliably knock out a nuclear-tipped Shahab-3 is a good thing, NIMBY (nice in my back yard--assuming of course that the Iranians live across the street).

But there is a catch:

Independent experts estimate the Arrow's success rate at 95 percent but some doubt whether it would be reliable against a salvo of Shahab-3s.
I'd like to think the salvo threat doesn't matter since it would still take Iran a long time to nuclearize enough Shahab-3s to launch a salvo of any significance.

However, even ignoring the 95% issue for the moment, there is still another problem. They don't need to nuclearize an entire salvo, just one or two missiles. The rest of the Shahab-3s, and any other junk missiles they want to toss in the air at the same time merely as distraction, need only confuse the Arrow guidance systems, and require Arrow missiles be used up shooting down mostly empty missile casings. Depending on how cheaply they can construct "decoy" missiles, the Arrow system could have a problem keeping up, even with a 100% accuracy rate. I would presume it is cheaper for Iran to build batches of dummy missiles, perhaps lacking all but the most rudimentary guidance systems, than it is for Israel to build a cutting-edge deterrent missile for each one.

I hope we're holding something in our other back pocket, and I'm not talking about Chirac-ian diplomacy.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: