Israel, U.S.: The Implications of X-Band Radar

Written by Stratfor


July 30, 2008

The United States reportedly might deploy an X-band ballistic missile defense radar in Israel, a development that follows a July 29 meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The timing of the potential deal is notable, and the military implications would be significant for both Washington and the Jewish state.
The United States might place an advanced X-band ballistic missile defense (BMD) radar in Israel, according to July 30 media reports citing an unnamed U.S. defense official. Though the report remains unconfirmed, such an arrangement could signal an important political compromise and has military implications for both Washington and the Jewish state.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly requested such a deployment in a July 29 meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Washington. In addition to the X-band radar, Barak reportedly also requested integration with the U.S. early warning system and extra funding for two shorter-range Israeli counter-rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) efforts called David’s Sling and Iron Dome. These shorter-range systems would be used to counter Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip and artillery rockets fired by Hezbollah from southern Lebanon. In addition, Barak reportly also is interested in acquiring several trailer-mounted Phalanx close-in weapons systems, which are adapted from the U.S. shipboard point defense system.

Barak’s request centers around a high-resolution, X-band class phased array radar. This type of radar is capable of plotting the intercepts of fast-moving re-entry vehicles. The Pentagon already has several mobile forward deployable radars built based on the surveillance, acquisition and tracking X-band radar used for the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. On July 3, a THAAD system (in the late stages of testing) successfully discriminated a separating warhead from its larger boost vehicle and guided an interceptor to the warhead inside the atmosphere.

The Patriot and Arrow systems’ radars operate in the L- and C-bands, respectively, not in the more discriminating X-band. While the degree of integration Israel might achieve between the radar and its various air defense systems would remain to be seen, an X-band radar tailored for BMD would undoubtedly be an important upgrade for the Israelis. Meanwhile, integration with the U.S. early warning system would further give the Israelis access to the Defense Support Program’s space-based infrared launch detection satellites, and perhaps even to feeds from U.S. BMD-capable Aegis-equipped warships operating in the Persian Gulf.

As a whole, these two developments would ultimately further harden Israeli airspace from ballistic missile attack, thus further undermining the threat of Iranian Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missiles.

The United States and Israel have a long tradition of cooperation in BMD, and Israel has previously proven more fertile ground for BMD investment than the United States. But Washington is also engaged in important negotiations with Tehran. Providing technological capabilities to Israel to harden the Jewish state against a potential missile strike by Iran thus could be premised on Israeli noninterference with a potential U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, if not on Israeli support for such a rapprochement. Ultimately, the deal with Israel also carries benefits for the United States, so it is likely that the Pentagon would be amenable in the long run, Iran aside. But we cannot help but notice the timing.

Placement of an X-band radar in Israel and integration of it with the Pentagon’s early warning system gives the United States a second radar much closer to Iran and the Middle East, giving Washington the ability to integrate that surveillance and tracking data with the information flowing from its X-band radar in the Czech Republic once that system becomes operational. This will mean faster detection, longer reaction times and better discrimination for the United States’ larger BMD system in Europe as well.

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