To defend itself, Israel has invested heavily in its air defense system. A major component of this defensive network is interceptor missiles. As incoming weapons fly higher and faster, so too must the interceptors. To that end, Israel Aerospace Industries led the development of the Hetz (Hebrew for Arrow) 3 exoatmospheric hypersonic anti-ballistic missile. On the evening of November 10, 2023, the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Ministry of Defense announced the first successful operation interception by the Arrow 3.
The Arrow missile program was started in response to the acquisition of long-range surface-to-surface missiles by Arab states. On May 6, 1986, the United States and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding to co-fund the program. Designed to counter Soviet-made SS-1 Scud and SS-21 Scarab tactical ballistic missiles, Arrow needed to be more effective than the MM-104 Patriot missile.
In August 2008, the United States and Israel began developing Arrow 3 to bolster the Israeli Air Defense Command. The goal set for the anti-ballistic missile was to have a kill ratio of 99%. IAI jointly developed the Arrow 3 with Boeing and preliminary tests began in Israel in 2011. Six years later, on January 18, 2017, the interceptor was deployed operationally.
Traveling at hypersonic speed, greater than five times the speed of sound, the Arrow 3 reportedly has an operational range of up to 2,400 km (1,500 mi) and a fight ceiling of greater than 100 km (62 mi). This operational altitude allows the Arrow 3 to engage threats beyond Earth’s atmosphere as defined by NASA, the U.S. military, and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
The joint MoD-IDF statement noted that the Arrow 3 “effectively intercepted a target launched towards Israel in the Red Sea region.” On October 31, 2023, an Arrow 2 missile successor intercepted a long-range ballistic missile launched at Israel by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. While this was not the first operational use of the Arrow 2, it was the interceptor’s first use during a war and first interception of a ground-to-ground ballistic missile. Moreover, because the intercept occurred beyond Earth’s atmosphere, it is considered the first reported instance of space warfare.