U.S. aids Israel missile, seeks joint deal

May 18, 2012 at 12:54 PM
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TEL AVIV, Israel, May 18 (UPI) -- The Pentagon has given Israel a quick-fix $70 million to buy at least two Iron Dome counter-rocket batteries as part of an overall package of nearly $1 billion for the missile defense shield it is putting together.

But, with both countries slashing defense spending because of global recession, there is talk of transforming Israel's development of missile defense systems by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems into jointly owned and managed ventures with U.S. defense companies that would give the Americans direct access to advanced Israeli missile technology.

Iron Dome is the only operational system capable of intercepting short-range rockets and mortar shells, with a computer that can detect which incoming missiles will hit populated areas and disregard those that won't.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, visiting Washington, said the provision of the immediate tranche of $70 million in aid would meet Israel's fiscal requirements regarding Iron Dome for fiscal 2012.

He disclosed that the United States, despite plans to cut defense spending by $600 billion, is discussing the possibility of setting up a multiyear budget with Israel under which it would purchase Iron Dome batteries.

Israel has deployed three batteries of Iron Dome, manufactured by Rafael, and plans to make another two operational in the coming months. But the Defense Ministry says it doesn't have the budget to pay for them.

All told, Israel's military planners say 13-14 batteries are needed to cover all areas of Israel within range of short-range rockets.

Also, as the range of missiles in the inventories of Hezbollah in Lebanon on Israel's northern border, and Palestinian militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in the south, keeps being extended, further batteries could be required.

The $984 billion approved by the U.S. Congress for fiscal 2013 will include $680 million for Iron Dome over the next few years. It's separate from the $3.1 billion in military aid Israel gets from the United States every year and the largest appropriation approved for Israel's ambitious missile defense program.

Other systems for the multilayer defense shield Israel is constructing to defend the country against all types of missiles -- from 122mm unguided Grad rockets to intermediate-range ballistic missiles -- will also be covered.

IAI's Arrow-3 anti-ballistic interceptor, being developed to hit Iranian and Syrian missiles beyond Earth's atmosphere, will get $74.69 million, the Globes business daily reports.

The Arrow System Improvement Program, which plans to upgrade currently deployed Arrow-2 missiles to Block 4 capability, will get $44.36 million, Globes said.

A third system, David's Sling, which Rafael is also developing to counter medium-range rockets and missiles with a reach of 24-150 miles, is expected to get $149.68 million.

The move toward turning the missile projects into joint ventures between IAI and Rafael with U.S. contractors would streamline U.S. funding for these programs and bind them more closely with U.S. projects.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency has been urging closer links for some time to cap more than two decades of U.S.-Israeli cooperation on developing counter-missile systems that are essential for many nations.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Patrick J, O'Reilly, the MDA's director, has said U.S.-Israel collaboration in this field has grown from early feasibility studies to fully operational missile defense architecture to become completely interoperable with U.S. missile defense systems.

Gabriel M. Scheinmann of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a Washington think tank, observes that a jointly run Iron Dome program "would be a bold and mutually beneficial symbol of the closeness and importance of the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance …

"Moreover, as opposed to repeated injections of aid, which are subject to the annual vagaries of the U.S. budget process, shared ownership would ensure a long-term American commitment to the program ….

"Washington is better placed to market, export and deploy the system in other potential areas of need around the world."

There are precedents for such an arrangement. Rafael works with the Raytheon Co. of Massachusetts, one of the main U.S. missile manufacturers. The Boeing Co. of Chicago has been collaborating with IAI for years on the Arrow program, which has been largely funded by the United States since it began in the 1980s.

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