TEL AVIV, Israel, June 29 (UPI) -- Amid worsening security problems in the Middle East, U.S. and Israeli military planners are discussing the development of the Jewish state's missile defense systems to ensure the country maintains its technological edge over regional adversaries and the ability to meet emerging threats.
U.S. support for Israel's efforts to build a multilayered defense shield against everything from ballistic missiles to short-range unguided rockets was a key topic when officials of the joint Defense Policy Advisory group met in Tel Aviv this week.
Details of the discussions weren't disclosed but The Jerusalem Post reported that the Israelis were particularly interested in developing a multiyear plan with the Americans that "would ensure a regular budget for missile defense systems that Israel will need to purchase over the coming years."
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has allocated $275 million in recent months to help Israel purchase more batteries of the Iron Dome system developed by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to reinforce the four already operational.
But Israeli planners estimate the military will need as many as 20 batteries to provide cover against short-range missiles possessed by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in the north and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Israel's southern border.
Since the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has imposed hefty cutbacks on military spending for fiscal 2012-13, cuts that are likely to be extended in subsequent years, the Israeli air force, which has responsibility for missile defense, is increasingly dependent on U.S. aid to expand the Iron Dome network.
Rafael is fast-tracking development of a more advanced Iron Dome variant capable of intercepting longer-range missiles until a dedicated system known as David's Sling, which is being developed by the company and the U.S. Raytheon Co., can be deployed.
But arguably the most important Israeli project is the Arrow-3 system, designed to intercept ballistic missiles outside Earth's atmosphere, being developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and the Boeing Co.
This system particularly interests the Americans.
"The design of Arrow 3 promises to be an extremely capable system, more advance than what we have ever attempted in the United States with our programs," the director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O'Reilly, observed recently.
"The U.S. intention is to integrate the support for Israeli programs into the U.S. defense budget," says the U.S. online Defense Update report.
Israel is the only country that fields missile systems capable of intercepting missiles and rockets of different calibers and ranges.
O'Reilly said the multitier Israeli defense shield could be used to protect U.S. forces in the Middle East.
The liberal Israeli daily Haaretz report, he even went so far as to intimate that Israeli missile batteries might also protect Arab countries allied to the United States but with which the Jewish state has no diplomatic relations.
In recent weeks, the U.S. Congress has approved an aid package of nearly $1 billion, spread over several years, to bolster Israeli missile defense programs, including Arrow 3.
That's on top of the $3 billion in U.S. military aid that Israel gets every year.
The Arrow-3 will be a major upgrade of IAI's Arrow-2 interceptor that's currently in service. The first Arrow batteries were deployed in 2000.
The Arrow-3 program and the Arrow System Improvement Program, which aims for an eventual Arrow-4 capability, will get around $112 million of the aid package funds, the Israeli business daily Globes has reported.
It will be integrated with the AN/TPY-2 X-Band radar the Americans deployed at an Israeli air base in the Negev Desert south of Tel Aviv in 2009. This can detect ballistic missile launches several minutes before the ground-based EL/M-2080 Green Pine radar, developed by IAI subsidiary Elta, that's part of the Arrow system.
David's Sling, intended to the middle-layer of the defense shield to counter missiles with a range of 24-150 miles, is expected to get nearly $150 million from the U.S. package.
This goes a long way to satisfying the Israeli military's aim of establishing a multiyear budget with the Pentagon that won't require annual administration approval.
The Israeli systems currently deployed will be put through their paces in October during the major missile defense exercise with the Americans known as Austere Challenge.