HAIFA, Israel, July 30 (UPI) -- Israel's navy is installing the Barak-8 air-defense missile system aboard its combat vessels to protect against Syria's new supersonic Russian-built Yakhont anti-ship missiles, which the Jewish state views as a potent threat to its long-held naval supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean.
The medium-range Barak-8 was developed by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and India's Defense Research and Development Organization.
India signed a $1.1 billion contract with IAI's Missile and Space Division in November 2009 to acquire the land-based and seaborne Baraks.
The navy's procurement of the Barak-8 was put off for years because the system's development was not completed until 2010. The missile has an operational range of 45 miles.
It can engage multiple targets simultaneously, even in a multi-weapon saturation attack, and intercept missiles as close as 500 yards.
The Barak-8, effective against anti-ship missiles, supersonic cruise missiles, manned aircraft and drones, is integrated with the ELM-2248 MF-STAR shipborne phased array radar system built by IAI subsidiary Elta.
Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems produces the interceptor missiles.
The Israeli media reports that the Barak-8 is expected to be operational aboard the navy's three Haifa-built Sa'ar-5 missile ships within the next 3-4 months.
These are the navy's largest surface warships. It's not clear whether its eight Saar-4.5 and two Saar-4 corvettes will also be equipped with the Barak-8 system.
The Russians began delivering the Yakhonts to Syria in December 2011 under 2007 contract valued at $300 million.
Moscow provided the Syrian regime with two Bastion coastal missile systems, comprising 18 mobile launchers and an estimated 72 of the missiles that have a maximum speed of Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, a range of 187 miles and carry a warhead containing 440 pounds of high explosives.
The deliveries took place amid Syria's civil war, with disparate rebel forces seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad, a key ally of Russia and Iran.
The provision of such weapons to the Damascus regime was widely seen as a Russian warning to the United States and Israel not to interfere in the Syrian conflict.
Since then, Israel has mounted at least three airstrikes against targets inside Syria, in each case linked to Syrian transfers of advanced weapons systems to its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, a major foe of Israel.
On July 5, the Syrian naval base at Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, where the shore-based Yakhonts reportedly were, was hit by a series of explosions.
There's been considerable speculation they were the result of an Israeli air raid, or possibly even a cruise missile strike launched from one of the Israeli navy's German-built Dolphin submarines, to neutralize the Yakhont threat.
The Russians have a naval base at Tartus, Syria's other main port, south of Latakia.
A major Israeli concern is the Syrians will seek to transfer some of the P-800s to Hezbollah, which has engaged the Israeli navy before with anti-ship missiles.
In the opening days of the monthlong 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, the Iranian proxy nearly sank an Israeli corvette, the Hanit, off the Lebanese coast near Beirut with a Chinese-designed C-802 missile. Five crewmen were killed.
In recent months, the Syrian regime is reported to have transferred Russian-built SA-17 surface-to-air missiles, which could challenge Israel's undisputed air supremacy over Lebanon, and Fatah 110 surface-to-surface missiles that can hit pretty much any part of Israel.
It's these shipments the Israeli air force has been striking.
Deliveries of the Barak-8 to India are expected to be completed by 2017. They will equip three Project 15A Kolkata-class guided missiles destroyers built at India's Mazagon shipyard.
The Indian air force plans to re-equip nine air-defense squadrons with the new missile.
The prime contractor for the program is India's DRDO, with IAI's Missile and Space Division acting as leading subcontractor.