American troops 'here to defend Israel'
2,500 American troops, along with more than 2,000 IDF soldiers, participate in 2018 Juniper Cobra exercise preparing for massive missile, rocket barrage on Israel from multiple fronts; 'American officers say they're here to defend Israel and its sovereignty,' says David's Sling commander.
For the David's Sling unit, it will be the first baptism of fire. "We're learning a lot about how to improve the system and adjust it for future threats," Lt.-Col. Kobi Regev, commander of the the first David's Sling battalion said.
Soldiers operating the American and Israeli air defense systems' command and control centers are required to tackle operational dilemmas that may turn the tide of the next conflict. They are tasked with handling heavy rockets, precision-targeted and long-range missiles, in the medium defense layer between the Iron Dome and the Arrow missile.
In some cases, the Israeli and American forces are forced to counter threats that have yet to be created, as they are still under development by Israel's enemies.
"Soldiers are required to operate weapons systems in a complex environment, as they see the enemy's missiles bearing down on the neighborhood where they live," Lt.-Col. Regev told Ynet.
"An immense amount of coordination is required between the Iron Dome, Arrow, Patriot and David's Sling systems. We don't have the privilege of each system operating independently and have to coordinate interceptions across all systems while holding constant communication between our senior strategic staff and the American brass, down to the parallel lower tactical ranks," he added.
The battalion commander revealed that a "significant and frantic" process of studying the enemy was taking place. "One of the main challenges for soldiers participating in the exercise is therefore to identify (incoming threats) within a short period of time, with determination and level-headedness, and launch an intercepting missile to hit the target.
"We may face down things we can't even imagine in the next war, and so we're currently joining the race to learn with the desire to counter all threats. The enemy is constantly thinking up ways to surprise us, not only weapons-wise but also as it pertains to its combat doctrine and perceptions. We at David's Sling bring an advantage of honing in on specialized targets existing in the field. No system can work alone."
Despite it all, Regev stated that, "Defense will not be hermetic, and a central component of our activities is (therefore) to bring sufficient warning to civilians, so that they may quickly and aptly seek shelter."
The David's Sling commander also recounted how moved he was by joint briefings at the end of each day. "American tactical officers take to the stage, and say they're here to defend the State of Israel and its sovereignty as if they were fighting for their own country. They say they'll do anything to defend Israel. It's moving," he said.
Lt.-Col. Richard Clark, commander of the American force, said that US Army forces are prepared to leave Europe and arrive in Israel within two or three days from the moment they are called upon.
The "thousands of threats" to prepare for notwithstanding, Clark said, the exercise allowed both Israel and the US to improve their communication and cooperation. "Defense against ballistic missiles is a difficult, highly technical task and requires a precise joint effort to succeed, and that's what we're working to develop here," he said.
"This is the biggest, most important exercise held by United States European Command this year. it symbolizes our commitment to Israel's security," Clark stated. "For eight months we've drawn conclusions from the previous exercise and thought about ways to improve our ability to defend Israel.
"Some 2,500 American troops deployed across Israel, Europe and the US are participating in the exercise along with more than 2,000 IDF soldiers. In our operation centers, we have American service members sitting side by side with Israeli defense force members, and this is the glue that is going to hold the inter-operability and the integration together when it comes time for us to execute this mission."
Israel has made missile defense a priority since the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein bombarded the country with 39 Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War. The Lebanese-based terror group Hezbollah, meanwhile, rained some 4,000 rockets into Israel during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, while Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza have fired thousands of rockets into Israel from the south.
Today, the threat is far more formidable. Hezbollah is now believed to possess a stockpile well in excess of 100,000 rockets and missiles capable of striking virtually anywhere in Israel.
Hamas's rocket capabilities are also alarming. The Gaza terror group fired some 4,000 rockets at Israel during Operation Protective Edge and occasionally—during times of security crisis—different Palestinian terror groups launch rockets at Israeli communities on the Gaza perimeter.
The Juniper Cobra 2018 exercise, which began March 4, will last until the end of the month.