Ynet, the Web site of the respected Tel Aviv daily Yediot Aharonot, reported Monday that U.S. funding for the Arrow-3 program is likely to be eliminated.
However, in compensation, the Obama administration is prepared to help Israel buy the U.S. Navy's Standard Missile 3 anti-ballistic missile system instead, the report said. The SM-3 is built by Raytheon as its primary contractor.
Ynet said the U.S. Congress is expected to take up the issue soon, possibly as early as its next session.
Offering the SM-3 makes a lot of sense and could prove a wiser course of action for Israel than pushing ahead with the Arrow-3. The SM-3 is far more expensive per unit at $10 million to $12 million each, compared with the individual projected cost of the Arrow-3 at only $1.5 million to $2 million each. But the SM-3 is a mature technology whose costs will not rise unexpectedly. The Arrow-3 is still in the developmental stage, and no one knows how high its real costs will reach as opposed to the optimistic projections made for it.
Far more important from Israel's point of view, SM-3s can be sold and deployed quickly, while the Arrow-3 is still at least three years away from operational deployment by the most optimistic assessment. But Iran already has a formidable intermediate-range ballistic missile arsenal and is now developing a far higher and faster intercontinental ballistic missile capability as well.
The SM-3 showed last year when it shot down a plunging U.S. satellite on Feb. 21, 2008, that it has the capability to destroy targets following the ballistic flight paths and with the speed and acceleration of an incoming ICBM. Ynet noted that the USS Lake Erie, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, destroyed the satellite by firing only a single SM-3, even though the target was plunging to Earth with a combined closing velocity of 22,780 mph at an altitude of 133 nautical miles above the Pacific Ocean.
Also, as we have noted in our analyses of the problems with Israel's Iron Dome very-short-range anti-ballistic missile defense system, the Jewish state, with a land area comparable to New Jersey and a population of only around 6 million, is world-class at upgrading existing military technologies, but it does not have the resources to develop many new systems of its own.
This problem may be less in the case of the Arrow-3, which is planned as an exoatmospheric interceptor that can hit and destroy intermediate-range ballistic missiles 60 miles above the surface of Earth. But the Raytheon SM-3 is already an established, reliable technology with a long record of successful IRBM interceptions under its belt.
The threat Israel faces from a potentially nuclear-armed Iran became imminent in February when Tehran successfully launched its first communications satellite on its own multistage ballistic missile. In effect, as we have often noted, any nation with the capability to launch a satellite into orbit on its own multistage booster already has the intercontinental ballistic missile capability to send a nuclear weapon, not just to Israel, but also 9,000 miles to the Eastern Seaboard cities of the United States.
Ending U.S. funding for the Arrow-3 would be consistent with President Obama's well-documented skepticism about ballistic missile defenses. Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed Monday a slashing of funding for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's Kinetic Energy Interceptor and Airborne Laser programs -- moves that would in effect kill both of them.
However, Ynet suggested that Raytheon may have applied pressure as well to try to kill the Arrow-3.
Ynet reported that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a strong enthusiast for the Arrow-3 program, recently met with a delegation of visiting U.S. senators and congressmen; following that meeting, he briefed a private meeting of his Labor Party, in which he warned of the pressures to kill the Arrow-3.