NATO’s Top New Air Defence System on Russian Borders May Face Deployment Delays Due to Israel-Gaza War

On November 12 the Israeli Defence Ministry announced the signing of a contract to supply David’s Sling long range air defence systems to the Finnish Armed Forces, following the receipt of a request to acquire the systems closely coinciding with Helsinki’s admission into the NATO alliance that month. The ministry reported regarding the development: “Director General MG (Res) Eyal Zamir signed an agreement for the sale of the ‘David’s Sling’ to Finland valued at approx. 317 million EUR. It is one of the world’s leading systems for intercepting advanced threats including ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft & drones.” The David’s Sling is expected to provide an effective complement to the 64 F-35 fifth generation fighters which Finland purchased from the United States in December 2021, with the aircraft able to provide targeting data to the Israeli air defence system which can in turn provide much needed protection to air bases on Finnish territory. The F-35’s notoriously low availability rates, resulting in considerably more time spent on the ground for each hour in the air than other fighter classes, makes the ability to protect facilities hosting the aircraft particularly important. 

Israel’s ability to deliver David’s Sling systems on schedule has been increasingly brought to question since the escalation of hostilities with Palestinian militia groups in the Gaza Strip, with the country having quickly faced ammunition shortages particularly for short range air defence systems. Israel is expected to rely heavily on the David’s Sling should current high tensions with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah or with its close strategic partner Iran escalate, as both parties field sizeable arsenals of advanced ballistic and cruise missiles as well as aircraft able to strike Israeli territory. While the heightened possibility of conflict may lead Israel to expand its stockpiles of missiles for existing David’s Sling launchers, attrition to the arsenal from engagements, including the possibility that they could be targeted by air defence suppression assets, may limit Israeli industry’s ability to furnish overseas clients with further David’s Sling systems. 

The David’s Sling has notably never been exported, but after use against targets over Syrian airspace its munitions were captured intact and sent to Russia for testing. This has raised questions regarding whether Russian countermeasures developed using the information acquired could render the system ineffective if deployed to Europe. The importance of David’s Sling systems in Finland has continued to rise as the United States looks to establish a significant military presence in the country including gaining basing rights for multiple F-35 squadrons, with the nuclear capable stealth aircraft posing a significant threat to Russian security expected to benefit significantly from Israeli air defence system’s ability to protect facilities hosting them. Israel’s ability to deliver the David’s Sling on time also has broader implications for European security, with Executive Vice President and General Manager at  Israeli defence manufacturer Rafael’s Air and Missile Defence Systems Division, Pini Yungman, having expressed optimism that the system could be exported “deeper into Europe” after the Finnish contract. With NATO’s main ground based air defence system the Patriot having taken combat losses in Ukraine and seen its capabilities closely assessed in combat by Russian forces, a more capable next generation system is expected to see greater demand with no serious NATO-compatible alternatives to the David’s Sling currently being available. The system’s viability against missiles using semi ballistic depressed trajectories like the Russian Iskander has nevertheless been brought to serious question, while it is considered almost certain to be incapable of reliable interceptions against missiles with hypersonic glide vehicles such as the Russian Zicron, .