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U.S. seeks to buy into Israeli missile programs

June 23, 2013 at 6:35 PM
TEL AVIV, Israel, June 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Congress is pushing for U.S. participation in developing Israel's Iron Dome counter-missile system, which would make the Americans partners to some degree in all the systems constituting the Jewish state's unique missile defense shield.

The U.S. House of Representatives this month tripled President Barack Obama's request for boosting U.S. funding of Israeli missile defense systems from $96 million to $284 million. This followed earlier increases in U.S. support for the Israeli missile programs.

U.S. financial backing for the missile defense systems began in the 1980s with the high-altitude Arrow program for which the Americans have paid the lion's share of the $1 billion development costs.

All this is separate from the $3 billion in military aid Israel receives from the United States every year.

The House Armed Services Committee approved the $284 million funding hike June 6. That includes an additional $15 million in funding for the Iron Dome system developed by Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems of Haifa.

It's the only one of Israel's anti-missile weapons that's been tested in combat, with a claimed kill rate of 85 percent. It's also the only one of those programs in which U.S. defense companies have not participated, and thus had no access to the advanced technology involved.

Iron Dome, the bottom tier of the Israeli anti-missile shield, is designed to intercept short-range missiles and rockets, the only such system in service in the world.

Its unique feature is its computerized fire-control system, which can determine the trajectories of hostile missiles. It only engages those that will hit populated areas and ignores those that won't.

U.S. defense contractors, and members of Congress, have been seeking for some time to participate in Iron Dome.

The House committee's funding increase stipulated, in an amendment proposed by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., that "it may be obligated or expended for enhancing the capability of producing the Iron Dome system program in the United States, including for infrastructure, tooling, transferring data, special test equipment and related components."

In March, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency for the first time included in its annual budget $220 million for Israel to buy more Iron Dome batteries in fiscal 2014. That was the first time the agency has specifically sought money for Iron Dome, underlining the U.S. Defense Department's effort to maintain military aid for Israel despite major cutbacks in defense spending.

The agency is also expected to seek another $520 million to fund other Israeli anti-missile systems, including the David's Sling and the high-altitude Arrow-3 currently under development.

The House of Representatives and the Senate indicated in 2012 they wanted to approve spending up to $680 million for Iron Dome through 2015.

The United States has long sought access to the Israeli-developed technology and is clearly using military aid to the Jewish state as leverage.

The Raytheon Co. has been working with Rafael for some time on developing David's Sling, which is designed to counter medium-range missiles.

Arrow-3, being developed by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and the Boeing Co., is intended to intercept Iranian and Syrian ballistic missiles outside Earth's atmosphere.

Neither participation involves co-production.

The Israelis, although concerned that joint development of these systems with the Americans, could inhibit export sales -- India and South Korea are interested in Iron Dome and Arrow -- would seem to have little choice but to accept U.S. participation.

In 2012, the House Armed Services Committee called on the Missile Defense Agency to "explore any opportunity to enter into co-production" of Iron Dome, given the scale of U.S. funding, even though Washington had no legal rights to the Israeli technology.

Israel initially opposed that and ruled out co-production. It offered Washington data on the technologies used in Iron Dome's Tamir interceptor rockets, provided intellectual property rights were observed.

But this was not enough for the House, or U.S. companies that saw the prospect of blunting the impact of the cutbacks in U.S. defense spending and the layoffs these would cause.

However, in March, possibly because of Israel's own defense budget cuts, Brig. Gen. Shachar Shohat, a senior officer in Israel's missile forces, said setting up a parallel U.S. factory to make Tamirs could be a "win-win situation for both countries."

He stressed this would allow the Americans to benefit from their financial support for Israel.

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