TEL AVIV, Israel, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- While Israeli forces battle a growing Palestinian missile onslaught from the Gaza Strip, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is getting ready to field test its newest anti-missile weapon, David's Sling and its Stunner interceptor.
Once David's Sling, also known as Magic Wand, becomes operational it will essentially complete a multi-tier missile defense shield that's been 20 years in the making.
The two-stage system, with a radar and electro-optical guidance system, is designed to counter missiles with a range span of 25-185 miles.
Rafael's other anti-missile system, Iron Dome, has been recently upgraded from countering short-range missiles and rockets to cover the same range of targets as David's Sling, will strengthen the growing missile threat to Israel from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Iron Dome, which got its baptism of fire in April 2011 against Soviet-era Grad rockets and indigenously produced Qassams, is currently engaged in battling longer-range, Iranian-built Fajr-5 missiles unleashed by Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip.
It's the first time Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza have fired the Fajr-5 against Israel.
It has a range of nearly 50 miles. That's enough to hit metropolitan Tel Aviv, Israel's largest urban conurbation with a population if around 3 million, 40 percent of the country's people.
But Hezbollah used them during its 34-day war with Israel in July-August 2006 and they hit as far south as the port city of Haifa, Israel's main naval base.
Hezbollah called its enhanced variant of the Fajr-5, a road-mobile weapon built by Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization, the Khaibar-1.
The Iron Dome 2.0, which extended range and more accurate interceptions capabilities, is being used to counter the Fajrs in the current escalating battle in war-battered Gaza.
David's Sling, developed by Rafael and the U.S. Raytheon Co., will fill the middle layer of Israel's emerging anti-missile shield. Iron Dome constitutes the bottom level.
Raytheon developed the system's missile firing unit and overall logistics.
Above David's Sling is the Arrow-2 anti-ballistic system, built by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and Boeing of the United States, is designed to destroy Iran's Shehab-3b intermediate-range missiles and the Sejjil-2 weapon still under development.
Arrow-2, a variant of a system first deployed operationally in 2000, is a high-altitude, long-range weapons designed to intercept ballistic missiles in the final stage of their trajectory.
Arrow-3, the most advanced variant now under development, is intended to destroy ballistic weapons outside Earth's atmosphere, with existing Arrow-2 batteries as back-up for those missiles that slip through the Israeli defenses.
The upcoming tests for David's Sling will be the first it undergone to examine its capabilities to destroy hostile missiles in flight.
Israel's Globes Business Daily reports that the testing against a dummy missile will take place somewhere in southern Israel, although it's not clear whether the tests will be affected by the current fighting that could widen.
"A successful trial for David's Sling will ensure the continued push by Rafael and Raytheon to their target: operational batteries by 2014, and then, while Israel may still be threatened by many more missiles, it will also have the world's best defense system," Globes observed.
Rafael officials say they intend that David's Sling will also be able to shoot down aircraft. An air-to-air version may also be developed.
"The idea is to take a technology engine and build a wide range of products around it," explained Rafael's marketing and business development director, Yossi Horowitz.
Cuts in defense spending are the driver here. "We're in an era of a frenzy of cuts in defense budgets," he said.
"The U.S. has cut its weapons equipment budget and Germany is cutting half its Patriot missiles.
"The cost of maintaining specific missiles for different targets is very high and a missile from one family that can fulfill all tasks substantially reduces costs," Horowitz said.
The price of one of Raytheon's PAC-3 model Patriots is about $5 million and Rafael believes the Stunner, David's Sling's interceptor, will be capable of doing much more than the Patriot, better and for less money.
"It will cost between 20 percent and 25 percent less than a Patriot interception missile system," Horowitz said.