Anat has been leading the launch and interceptor system project for David’s Sling at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, where she has worked for two decades; she shares insights into the evolving operational landscape post-October 7 and the emerging threats the system is gearing up to combat

In this article, we can only refer to her as Anat. Due to strict guidelines from information security officials at the Israeli defense company Rafael, her full name, place of residence and other identifying details cannot be disclosed. Anat has been with Rafael for the past two decades, holding various development positions. For the last three years, she has been in a pivotal role within the company, leading the launch and interceptor system project of the David’s Sling air defense system, designed to counter complex aerial threats to Israel.

The conversation with Anat takes place in one of Rafael Development Center’s conference rooms, situated on the 25th floor of a Tel Aviv office building. It takes place amid the ongoing war in Gaza and tensions along the northern border. Gray clouds loom overhead as discussions unfold about a potential hostage deal, the looming threat of all-out war in the northern region, the resurgence of pro-Iranian militias, and life in this turbulent part of the world.

Anat, project leader of the launch & interceptor system for David’s Sling at Rafael
(Photo: Sharon Tzur)

Rafael, the Defense Ministry, and the IDF are keeping mum about the role the David’s Sling system is playing in the current war and its interception count since the tragic events of October 7. Nonetheless, Anat says she is pleased, albeit without providing specific figures.

“David’s Sling works excellently. It fulfills its purpose and saves lives,” she says. “It is a complex system that contains several subsystems: the command and control center, the radars and the weapon system itself, which includes the launchers and the interceptors that stand at the center of it. I manage its development aspects from end to end alongside a development team that works alongside me, with the task being to keep it up-to-date in the face of the constantly evolving threats.”

David’s Sling has been operational in the Air Force’s air defense system since 2016. Can you explain its deployment and functionality?

“It has a huge growth potential and, already in its content phase, it was defined as a system that will need to be constantly developed and perfected. That is why we always have our finger on the pulse so that we can respond to all the new threats that our neighbors develop against us. We do not sit on our hands even when the system is operational and deployed in the field, we continue to develop it and adapt it to current and future needs. It is a learning curve, and we are also constantly learning where we can and should tighten the protection it provides. David’s Sling has not yet had its last word.”

How challenging are the threats posed by neighboring countries?

“Our enemies are constantly developing new threats. They want to surprise our systems in all kinds of ways, and in this race we fight and deal with them. One of our strengths is that we have excellent professional teams. The team that works with me is very strong, they are all goal-oriented and leading professionals. We all see eye to eye on the task to protect our home, and that is where we all direct the skills, knowledge, experience and abilities we have gained.”

David’s Sling
(Photo: Rafael)

Could you elaborate on the day-to-day demands of your work?

“In a time like this, a time of war, this is a job that requires availability 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is a lot of vigilance. My team and I work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Defense Ministry and the Israeli Air Force. Every incident in which David’s Sling is involved is investigated in detail to learn from it.”

‘Learning from successes and failures’

Anat lives in a small town in the north of the country with her spouse, whom she met during her work at Rafael, and her three children, ages 9, 16 and 19. Her oldest daughter is an infantry fighter in the Caracal Battalion of the IDF. “She is currently in a commanders course following a few months of service along the southern border. There is great pride in her service, but also considerable concern,” Anat says.

Anat herself immigrated to Israel from Moscow when she was 11 years old, with her parents and her five-year-old sister. Her mother is a doctor, her late father was an electrical engineer. She grew up in Kiryat Motzkin until she was recruited into the Mamram technological unit of the IDF.

She later studied computer science and went to work at Rafael. Her service with David’s Sling started on the wrong foot. In the summer of 2018, two expensive David’s Sling interceptors were launched at two surface-to-surface missiles fired as part of the Syrian Civil War after the system mistakenly estimated that they would land in Israeli territory. The Syrian missiles actually fell within Syrian territory. The interceptors of the new Israeli defense system were already in the air, one of them exploded in flight and the other fell in Syrian territory.

“We are learning all the time,” she says. “We learn a lot from successes, so shouldn’t we learn from failures as well? This is a very advanced system, parts of which are based on artificial intelligence, and they allow it to improve performance by relying on previous launch data. However artificial intelligence does not replace engineering teams. Everything that can be investigated in it is investigated, so that we can generate insights and draw conclusions. This is the basis. This is a multidisciplinary system, and therefore every engineer and every team leader involved in it needs to know and understand what worked and in what way and where, and what needs to be improved. All the insights we generate in the investigations fit within the entirety of the system, and it is a complete ensemble that works together.”

‘There was no chaos on October 7’

In the violent reality of the Middle East, it did not take long for David’s Sling to have an opportunity for a corrective experience. During Operation Shield and Arrow, against the Islamic Jihad infrastructure in the Gaza Strip in May 2023, a David’s Sling missile successfully intercepted a long-range rocket launched into the central area of Israel. “This was the first operational interception of the system, and it caught us after a very intensive sequence of operations related to the development and updating of its capabilities and performance,” she says.

David’s Sling in action
(Photo: Rafael)

Five months later, the war broke out in Gaza. The flood of rockets aimed at Israeli cities, mainly from Gaza but also from Lebanon, gave David’s Sling plenty of opportunities to demonstrate its capabilities and performance, and it became an integral part of Israel’s answer to the multitude of rockets being fired at it. During the fighting, Rafael and the Defense Ministry signed a historic deal worth approximately 1.3 billion shekels in which a David’s Sling system will be exported for the first time to Finland, which is upgrading its defense system against missiles due to the war between Russia and Ukraine. “It is a very significant event that such a system is sold to a country that is a member of the NATO alliance. It’s a big deal,” according to Anat.

What do the Finns gain from the deal?

“They gain the best air defense system in the world, which is operationally proven and these days functions very well and with excellent interception rates. They get a system with experience in combat missions,” she says.

While Anat’s team is constantly working on the investigation and analysis of the interceptions of David’s Sling, the functioning of its control system and a host of other data, other teams at Rafael are working on other developments that look to the future and are supposed to answer threats that other countries are already working on, and will emerge on the scene in the coming years.

Rafael is investing one of its main efforts in completing the development of the Iron Beam system, which is based on a powerful laser beam that is supposed to neutralize rockets and aircraft at the speed of light and zero cost compared to the cost of intercepting with an Iron Dome rocket. Another system under development is the SkySonic, designed to protect against the future threat of hypersonic missiles that fly at more than five times the speed of sound.

Could it be that the ability to intercept almost any aerial threat put Israel in a state of false security, while the enemy improved its capabilities at the borders?

“Attack and defense are two efforts that must exist and progress simultaneously. On the one hand, the Israeli population must not be held hostage to missile attacks and all kinds of flying objects developed by our enemies, and on the other hand the state must continue to invest, as it does invest, in the development of offensive systems. Rafael is also a very significant partner in this effort and expands the supply of precise measures such as smart bombs.”

Speaking of defense and attack, do you have any insights from the Hamas attack?

“I don’t want to imagine what our reality would look like on October 7, and the days that followed, without air defense systems. The fact that, in the first two days of the war, rockets were fired at Israel at an equal amount to the number fired throughout the entire Second Lebanon War shows that it is good that we have a strong and tight air defense,” she said.

I suppose that any experience you had at Rafael previously pales in comparison to the intensity of the events on October 7.

“Indeed, and there have been quite a few foundational events over the past few years. There is no doubt that the morning of October 7 is stronger than any other event I have experienced.”

How did you conduct yourself in an atmosphere of complete chaos in the country, uncertainty and a lot of stress and anxiety?

“I did not feel the chaos you are talking about. Of course, I reacted to the events immediately. As soon as you realize that there is an event of such magnitude, you jump in your car and race to work and realize that we are in a new operational reality. Despite the panic, the processes were organized and orderly. My team was committed. There were quite a few people who were called up to the IDF reserves and there were many more who previously worked in the David’s Sling program who called us, offered help in everything they could, and offered to come and assist even in the production processes of the missiles.”

How are tasks prioritized in an emergency, when everything is urgent and some decisions need to be made right now?

“In the right order. Everything is urgent and necessary, and we do it calmly and methodically. This means managing the event with the air defense system of the Israei Air Force, with the Defense Ministry (which is in charge of the multi-level defense system) while improving coordination with them on the fly. It wasn’t chaotic, but it was very intense.”

As someone who has a technological role, how do you see the place of artificial intelligence, which seems to be about to take over our lives?

“It’s a wonderful tool that improves the performance of our systems.”

Yes, but there is the fear that the machine will rise against its creator, and then no David’s Sling will come to our aid.

“This event also needs to be managed.”

Is it possible?

“I think so, and in principle not every futuristic movie with such scenarios signals what is to come. Artificial intelligence contributes significantly to systems like the ones we are working on, of course, provided that it is used wisely and correctly. It should be treated as an auxiliary tool, from a wide basket of tools at our disposal.”

As reported by Ynetnews