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Sunday, September 28, 2008

US deploys X-band radar in Israel

Defense News is reporting that as promised, the United States has deployed the FBX-T radar system - popularly known as the X-band - at the Nevatim air base in southern Israel. And as promised, it's an American deployment under American control, just like in Japan.

The Raytheon-built FBX-T system is the same phased-array radar that was deployed to northern Japan with the U.S. Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) in 2006. The high-powered, high-frequency, transportable X-band radar is designed to detect and track ballistic missiles soon after launch.

Its ancillary gear included cooling systems, generators, perimeter defense weaponry, logistics supplies and dozens of technicians, maintenance specialists and security forces to operate and defend the U.S. installation.

EUCOM has repeatedly deployed troops and Patriot air defense batteries for joint exercises and Iraq-related wartime contingencies, but has never before permanently deployed troops on Israeli soil.

A EUCOM spokesman declined to comment. MDA officials referred to the U.S. State Department, which did not provide comment by press time.

An Israeli military spokesman said the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) enjoys longstanding strategic cooperation with all branches of the U.S. military.

"This cooperation is varied and comes in multiple forms, and it is not our practice to discuss details of our bilateral activities," he said.

Nevertheless, in previous interviews, U.S. and Israeli officials confirmed that the X-band deployment plan was approved in July, first by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi; and then by. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
This system is a key element in Israel's defenses against Iran. Here's why.

The radar will be linked to the U.S. Joint Tactical Ground Station (JTAGS), which receives and processes threat data transmitted by U.S. Defense Support System satellites. According to U.S. and Israeli sources, JTAGS will remain in Europe, but its essential cueing data will stream into the forward-deployed X-band radar, where it instantaneously shares information with Israel's Arrow Weapon System.

Once operational, the combined U.S. and Israeli system is expected to double or even triple the range at which Israel can detect, track and ultimately intercept Iranian missiles, according to Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency.

During a visit to Israel in early August, Obering said the X-Band radar could add precious minutes to the time in which Israel has to respond to incoming missile attacks.

"The missile threat from Iran is very real, and we must stay ahead of the threat ... that's why we're working so hard with all our allies to put the most optimized, effective, anti-missile capabilities in place," Obering said.

"In the context of Israel, if we can take the radar out here and tie it into the Arrow Weapon System, they'll be able to launch that interceptor way before they could with an autonomous system," he added.

Ilan Biton, a brigadier general in the Israel Air Force (IAF) reserves and former commander of the nation's air defense forces, could not comment on the latest developments associated with the X-band radar. However, he said that an IAF air defense brigade established during his 2003-2006 tenure has continuously demonstrated its ability to interoperate well with American forces.

"We advanced tremendously on multiple levels and have developed very impressive cooperation," Biton said at a Sept. 22 conference in Herzliya. Referring to bilateral Juniper Cobra air defense exercises and the 2003 deployment of Patriot batteries prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Biton noted: "At the human level, we've developed a common language and at the technical level, we've put in place the interfaces that allow our systems to speak to one another."

The end result, according to Biton, is a combined ability "to manage battles, execute debriefs and implement corrections, all in real time."
The Americans are hoping that by deploying the X-band system here, they will send a message to Iran that the US will defend Israel against that country, while sending a message to Israel that it can live with a nuclear Iran if it has to.

DEBKA, which first broke the story of the Israelis being unhappy with the lack of Israeli control over the system, points out that Israeli personnel are barred from the X-band facility, but on the other hand says that the link with the JTAGS system will improve Israel's missile detection capabilities.
This is the first time an Israel Defense Forces facility housing an American weapons system has been closed to Israeli military.

The X-band radar has been deployed with cooling systems, generators, perimeter defense weaponry and dozens of technicians and security forces to operate and defend the installation.

The Raytheon system can detect a flying object the size of a baseball at a distance of 4,700 km, fix on its speed and trajectory and convey the data to the Israeli Arrow anti-missile battery. This equals detecting an Iranian Shehab-3 ballistic missile 5.5 minutes after its launch, which means that it is picked up halfway on its 11-minute flight from Iran to bomb targets in Israel, adding precious minutes to Israel’s response time for incoming missile attacks.

Israel has furthermore been given improved access to US satellites capable of identifying missiles at the instant of their launch. Israel will now be directly linked to the satellites - albeit through the US Joint Tactical Ground Station – JTAGS in Europe.
The first picture in this post is of a land-based X-band system of the type deployed in the Negev desert. The other two pictures are of sea-based systems of the type deployed in Japan.

There is no question that Israel is better off with X-band than without it regardless of who controls the system.

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