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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

US to control FBX-T radar installed in Israel

Three weeks ago, I reported that the United States was going to link Israel to the FBX-T radar system, which would allow Israel approximately five minutes of additional warning time to shoot down Iranian missiles. Last night, DEBKA reported that the United States was insisting on maintaining strict control over the FBX-T system: It will be operated from a US base in Israel's Negev desert by American technicians. DEBKA even speculated on the possibility that the US would be selective about the information that it shares with Israel.
When they swung the deal in Washington last month, Barak and Ashkenazi said the Israeli Defense Forces would acquire a major resource and Israel a valuable shield against enemy missiles.

But they erred badly in failing to demand its integration in Israel’s national interceptor system for four reasons:

1. Israel will have no denied direct access to the data gathered by the system and can only hope the American operators will pass on the information as and when Israel needs it for self-defense rather than when it suits US interests.

2. The FBX-T will not only be able to track Iranian and Syrian missiles and aircraft but also keep watch on Israeli operations, giving the Washington a handle for stalling them. DEBKAfile’s military sources point out that the Americans are suddenly in a hurry to have the system deployed in the Negev as soon as September. They will then be in position to forestall a possible Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear installations should one be decided in Jerusalem.

3. US experts say the FBX-T radar will lengthen the Israeli Arrow anti-missile system’s range for detecting incoming Iranian missiles several times over. This is technically accurate, but in practice this enhanced capability is entirely contingent on a Pentagon order to the American crews in the Negev to activate a link between them.

4. Barak and Ashkenazi said on their return from Washington that they had procured US consent to links between Israel’s early warning and missile interceptor systems, the X-band radar (which can pick up a missile 2,000 km from target) and also the American JTAGS satellites (which detects a missile launch).

This is not the case.

Any links between the IDF’s radar and interceptors and the JATG satellites must be channeled through the X-band radar base in the Negev and are not direct. The data passed to Israel will be subject to pre-selection by American decision-makers.

Several billion dollars of US and Israeli funds have been sunk into developing the Arrow, which Israeli officials until recently claimed was a match for Iran’s Shehab-3 ballistic missiles. It turns out now that the Arrow and its Green Pine radar pick up incoming missiles only when they are 800 km short of their target. Israel applied for the FBX-T radar to extend that range to 2,000 km from its territory. But as long as the system is operated exclusively by American personnel, its usefulness for shielding Israel against enemy missiles will circumscribed.
I didn't run this story last night because I was hesitant about using DEBKA as a sole source for such an explosive story (every blog that ran it last night was basing itself solely on DEBKA). I have now found a second source that says that the FBX-T will be solely operated by American troops. Curiously, the first sentence says the following:
Sources in Israel have revealed that the FBX-T radar system, which Washington is proposing to position in Israel, will be operated entirely by American military personnel, to be stationed in a segregated location, off-limits to Israeli access (similar to the radar and missile bases in Poland and Czech Republic, and other US military bases worldwide).
DEBKA had reported last night that
Even Poland, one [IDF] officer commented, looked after its sovereignty and only signed its defense pact with the United States for the installation of missile interceptors on its Baltic coast after the Americans agreed to instruct Polish crews in their future operation.
Did they? DEBKA may have gotten that wrong.

(Note - the picture below and the following one are pictures of sea-based x-band radar, which is not the same as FBX-T. Nearly all the FBX-T pictures I found still had the radar "in the box" like the one at the top of this post).

My second source, Aviation Week, also confirms that the IDF is not happy about this arrangement:
The unprecedented strict "hands-off" proviso, which was reluctantly accepted by Israeli politicians, is regarded with extreme disfavor by IDF senior officers, who point to the fact that Israel has traditionally insisted that no foreign troops be stationed permanently in it's territory. Indeed, when the US Army dispatched Patriot missile batteries with their crews on temporary deployment during Operation Desert Storm, they were joined by IDF officers operating side-by-side with the American troops. Despite its reluctance to allow permanent deployment of foreign troops, Israel has provided storage facilities for US military hardware for over a decade.
Look, we have a problem. The problem is that the Green Pine radar that goes with the Arrow missile only detects incoming missiles at 800 kilometers. That's not enough time to shoot down an incoming Iranian nuclear missile high enough in the atmosphere to avoid fallout. The American FBX system solves that problem by picking up incoming missiles from 2000 kilometers out. Given where Iran is in its nuclear development program, we need something like the FBX as soon as possible. In a perfect world, Israel would have developed its own FBX system. Our defense industry is certainly capable of doing so. But we - perhaps foolishly - placed our defense priorities elsewhere. Now, we are paying the price. Our choice is to take the radar on the American terms or go develop our own. Given those parameters, taking the radar is a wise move.

As Aviation Week notes, the Americans aren't treating us any worse than they are treating Poland or the Czech Republic. For that matter, they're not treating us any worse than Japan, which is at least as close an ally as we are (Hat Tip: Gates of Vienna, who has lots more information about the Japanese set-up than what I am putting here and should be read in full).

The X-Band radar, officials said, would help detect and track a missile launched against either Japan or the United States. Town stressed that the radar has no intercept capabilities.

“This is a surveillance, detection and early warning system, to provide information to the Japan Defense Agency and to the U.S. government,” he said.

The United States will share X-Band radar data with Japan’s government. Aegis cruisers and U.S. Patriot PAC-3 missile systems would be interceptors. The U.S-Japan military realignment plan calls for PAC-3 capabilities to be deployed to Japan within existing U.S. facilities, “becoming operational at the earliest possible time.”

The X-Band radar will operate 24 hours a day under the supervison of about 100 professional contractors and “specially selected military people,” Town said.
While DEBKA may be correct that ultimately "Israel will have no... direct access to the data gathered by the system and can only hope the American operators will pass on the information as and when Israel needs it for self-defense rather than when it suits US interests," given that we are probably talking about a five-minute window, I find it hard to believe that they won't tell us if an Iranian nuke is heading our way. And besides, as I said before, if we don't like the arrangement, we can always go develop our own. And in the long run, maybe we should.

Gates of Vienna adds a reader's comment that makes it clear that the Americans have more motivation for putting FBX here than Israel's defense.
In the light of growing tensions between NATO and Russia, the possible bombing of Iran, civil war in Sudan, possible Islamist takeovers in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Hizbullah taking over in Lebanon, the Iraqi war, the Balkan wars, the independence of Kosovo, it seems that Bush and Olmert turned Israel into a forward listening post for most of potential American conflicts. Only two major conflict zones that are not covered are Venezuela and North Korea.

If Ukraine and Georgia become members of NATO, there will probably be an overt war between NATO and Russia. They have been fighting a covert war ever since the 1999 bombing of Serbia. I would not be surprised if the Russians try to bomb that radar in Israel. If it is as powerful as they claim it is, it would be a huge asset in fighting Russia.
If Gates' reader is correct, then we will have a major US military installation in our country within the next few months. And if we have a major US military installation in our country, it's probably a decent bet that we won't be abandoned like Georgia was last week in case of war.

All in all, taking the radar is a good move at this time.


At 12:53 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel should move ahead to develop a domestic FBX-T system under Israeli control to give it an independent means of checking U.S data and to retain an Israeli independent strike capability. That way, Israel will have the best of both worlds.

At 4:51 PM, Blogger Ashan said...

If a nuke is heading our way, the Americans manning the system will very much want to succedd in shooting it down. They stand to be affected by the missile just as much as any of us Israels.

At 6:44 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I've said it before and I will say it again. Israel should be completely independent of the US and any other country for defense.

The reason is that it can, will, and has been held against Israel. Sadly this is a result of highly confused and often grossly incompetent political figures on all sides, various 'biases' in the US defense establishment, and a bunch of other reasons.

Israel needs to develop its own kit. And start selling its own kit.

At 7:29 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Could this radar be used to monitor Israeli military actions? That may be a reason the Americans want to run it.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

NormanF and Kranky,

Yes, but we should have developed an FBX-T five years ago (at least). That's the point I was trying to make. Instead of trying to develop Iron Dome (a system I have criticized on this blog), we should have bought Skyguard from the US (which they would have let us operate ourselves - far less sensitive system) and spent our time and development efforts on something like the FBX-T.


Exactly why I don't think Israeli control of the system is critical. It's a matter of pride, but we can't dictate the terms, so we should suck it up and be happy that the Americans are willing to give it to us at all. We're part of a very small club.


Yes, that's what DEBKA is claiming. But at this point, our risk of being hit by an Iranian nuke or its fallout is drastically reduced by using FBX-T, and since we didn't develop it on our own, we have no choice but to accept it on the Americans' terms.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Michael Travis said...

During the "Gulf War" (Desert Storm) the Americans, whose useless Patriot system we had deployed in Tel Baruch and elsewhere, not only allowed us to be sitting ducks for Saddam's scuds...but threatened to shoot down IAF aircraft if we dared to retaliate against Iraqi missile launchers. America did not, does not, and will not, share real time Intel with Israeli Sigint or the IDF.

Let's make a clear distinction between the American "people" and their political leadership. The "People" support our tiny country, but the Carter-Bush-Clintons, view our existence as an obstacle to 'peace", and a general pain in the ass.

A few dead Americans is a very small price for the US leadership to pay for the elimination of the Jewish State.


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