TEL AVIV, Israel, Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Raytheon Co., the world's biggest missile maker, says it is developing a new anti-missile system that could beef up Israel's defense against Iran as early as 2013.
The plan, unveiled during an annual U.S. Army-organized missile-defense conference in Huntsville, Ala., comes after July's decision by Israeli and U.S. military officials to abort testing of Arrow II, a missile-defense shield under development by the two countries.
Raytheon's planned SM-3 system opts to create a land-based rendition of the company's existing Standard Missile-3, a mainstay of U.S. missile shields from the sea.
Should the program go into production and then be deployed in Israel and other U.S. allies, the proposed system could "provide Israel a near-term solution to counter ballistic missiles from Iran," said Raytheon in its presentation earlier this week.
Company executives argue the system's potential value is forecast at more than $1 billion. They also said the land-based SM-3 could be operational by 2013 provided adequate funding was received by the Pentagon.
With tensions heightened in the Middle East over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent re-election victory, debate has rekindled in Washington and Tel Aviv over the impact of continued diplomacy to curb what the United States and Israel view as Iran's designs to build nuclear weapons.
Iran has long resisted calls by the West to scrap its nuclear enrichment program, saying it is intended for peaceful purposes. It hinted Tuesday that it would be open to unconditional nuclear talks with the West.
But late last month U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested the United States could extend a "defense umbrella" in the Middle East should Iran gain nuclear capability.
July's aborted Arrow anti-missile system test -- an interceptor jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. and the Chicago-based Boeing co. -- was intended to assess how well the system could function with other elements of the U.S. ballistic system network, including the Terminal High Altitude Area Program.
That defensive system was recently moved to Hawaii in fear of a possible missile launch from North Korea.
Even so, the aborted Arrow missile test raised questions about what kind of defense strategies could be effective in containing or countering prospective Iranian attacks.
Israel has spent more than a decade developing its own missile-defense program following the U.S. military's ill-fated bids to intercept Iraqi Scud rockets with Patriot missiles in the 1992 Gulf War.
In the past year alone, a string of Gulf Arab allies of the United States have clinched a rash of multimillion-dollar contracts to buy Raytheon's upgraded Patriot defense systems.
Raytheon's SM-3 is a defense against short-to intermediate-range missiles, developed for ships shielded with Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Aegis ballistic missile system.