TEL AVIV, Israel, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- Israel Aerospace Industries is developing a new missile warship that will give its navy greater firepower, but it's looking for foreign investors and says several countries are interested.
In the meantime, IAI, the flagship of Israeli's bustling defense industry, is moving ahead with a Defense Ministry order for three advanced Super Dvora Mark III patrol craft to boost protection for the Jewish state's natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Globes business daily reported the new design is still on the drawing board at IAI's Ramta plant in the Negev Desert city of Beersheva, but it will be the largest warship developed by the state-owned company amid an unprecedented upgrade for the navy.
The 96-foot vessel will be known as the Multirole Super Dvora. Nitzan Shaked, a reserve navy officer with command experience who's the general manager at the Ramta plant, observed: "We're in the preliminary development stage ... . The basic idea is to offer a ship with many more capabilities, while making sure it won't be too expensive or too big."
The MSD is the latest in IAI's line of surface combat ships, starting with the Dabur torpedo patrol boat. Fifteen of them remain in service.
The Dabur evolved into the larger and faster Dvora, which in turn produced the Super Dvora patrol craft that the navy still procures.
IAI announced in September the navy had ordered three more Super Dvora Mark IIIs to add to the four already in service, acquired under a 2004 contract.
Globes reported the aging Daburs will be mothballed when the new MSDs are commissioned.
The MSD is expected to be armed with various versions of IAI's Barak air-defense missile, which is also carried by the navy's three Saar 5-class corvettes, Israel's largest warships, and 8 Saar 4.5 coastal patrol craft.
The new craft will be equipped with the advanced radar developed by IAI subsidiary Elta systems, along with anti-missile defense systems and electo-optical systems for operating at night and in bad weather.
The Multirole Super Dvoras, like the Super Dvoras, will be powered by engines manufactured by Germany's MTU Detroit Diesel at its Detroit facility.
Otherwise, the MSDs will be fitted with Israeli systems, including the 25-30mm Typhoon cannon built by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, and the communications systems made by Orbit Technologies.
The Israeli navy deploys the various Dvora craft on coastal patrol missions, primarily counter-terrorism operations.
The navy, long Israel's Cinderella service, is being expanded in a multiyear build-up process, with more advanced missile-armed surface vessels and a fleet of German-built diesel-electric Dolphin-class submarines that make the Israeli navy the most powerful in the Middle East.
Three subs are operational and three more-advanced models are under construction at the Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG yards in Kiel. All are expected to be operational by 2017.
The boats, based on the German Type-209 hunter-killer design, are said to be able to carry nuclear-tipped cruise missiles that give the Israeli navy a strategic function for the first time.
The rich gas fields that Israel has found in its Exclusive Economic Zone in the Mediterranean have added a new dimension to the navy's responsibilities, and could aggravate tensions in the region amid the civil war in Syria, Israel's northern neighbor.
The patrol craft will be extensively deployed around the maritime infrastructure that will help transform Israel economy and make it a major energy power in the region.
IAI's Shaked told Globes that it is not yet clear whether the Israeli navy will invest in the Multirole Super Dvora.
Company officials say, given hefty cuts in the defense budget, the major financing for the project will likely come from overseas.
"The condition for this project to materialize is finding the means to finance, it," Shaked said. "We're already in talks with several countries which have expressed an interest in the program and will want to procure the new platform ... I hope we'll succeed in reaching understandings and agreements in 2014."