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BMD Focus: Israel's New BMD dilemma
Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin both assess their competing systems as being available for full operational deployment in Israel within six months.
Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin both assess their competing systems as being available for full operational deployment in Israel within six months.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Dec 07, 2006
Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin are fiercely competing for an Israeli order for very short range anti-ballistic missile defense systems. Israel desperately needs such a system. In its July-August operations against Hezbollah (the Iranian-backed Shiite Party of God) in Lebanon, the Israeli Army received a nasty surprise from the ability of Hezbollah to disrupt organized life throughout northern Israel as far south as the port city of Haifa with massive bombardments of Russian-designed Katyusha rockets.

However, although the Israelis may have to choose between the competing Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman systems, so far they recognize development problems with both of them, All Headline News reported Nov. 30.

Northrop Grumman's Skyguard was developed in conjunction with the U.S. Army and the Israeli Defense Forces, and was was expected to be the IDF's first choice. AHN reported that Skyguard "uses radars and a laser cannon to intercept incoming projectiles."

However, AHN said. "Israel has suspended its participation in the project." AHN cited a Jerusalem Post report that late last month, Israeli defense officials even "refused to meet with Northrop Grumman representatives."

"The point of contention appears to an inability to increased Skyguard's range to 6 miles," AHN said. "With its current range of only 1.8 miles, deploying Skyguard along Israel's entire northern border would be prohibitively expensive."

That leaves Lockheed Martin's Sky Shield as the Israelis' alternative option.

"Sky Shield uses a similar system of short-range radars but relies on a more conventional rapid-fire cannon to down enemy aircraft and missiles," AHN said."

Originally developed as a defense against low-flying planes and helicopters, the American defense contractor says it has modified Sky Shield to be able to destroy rockets, mortars and artillery shells."

According to AHN the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz has reported that "Sky Shield successfully destroyed a replica of a Palestinian-made Qassam rocket in a lab test recently. However, since the rocket was not in flight, there is still a lack of evidence whether or not Sky Shield can actually intercept incoming Qassams."

That is important for the Israelis as Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement that effectively runs the Gaza Strip, has lobbed hundreds of Qassams over the past year into Israeli territory over the Security Barrier, or wall, that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon built to stop the easy entry of Palestinian suicide bombers into Israel. Key Israeli industrial facilities, including the major port of Ashdod and the new desalination plant at Ashkelon, are in range of those Qassams.

According to AHN, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin both assess their competing systems as being available for full operational deployment in Israel within six months.

The AHN report reveals a striking setback for the much touted and technically ambitious Skyguard program. Israel rejected considering Skyguard, a high-energy chemical laser system designed to destroy incoming artillery rockets and ballistic missiles. The system is a smaller version of what was previously called THEL, or "Tactical High Energy Laser."

Israel dropped out of the project at the beginning of 2006 because it was so costly to develop, but did an abrupt U-turn after Hezbollah fired over 2,000 rockets into northern Israel during the brief summer war.

The main problem with THEL/Skyguard was its much shorter range, as AHN reported. Each THEL system, including its radar and chemical laser, was supposed to cover 6 miles of border, not just 1.8 miles.

As we have previously reported in BMD Focus, Pentagon critics and high tech BMD enthusiasts assailed the Pentagon for not pushing ahead more energetically with the THEL system over the past decade. It is certainly the case that up to the Hezbollah-Israel conflict, THEL funding remained very low relative to other BMD programs. Only about $300 million was allocated to it over the past decade, of which Israel provided about half.

THEL/Skyguard's problem remains its short range. Sky Shield, as AHN noted, remains operationally untested against Qassams. It is far too early to write off either system, especially given the relatively meager resources that have so far been allocated to developing either of them. But time is not on the Israelis' side, and they may have to choose fast.

Source: United Press International

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