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BMD Focus: Israel buys the Phalanx

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Martin Sieff
Washington (UPI) May 1, 2009
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has finally prevailed upon his own military bureaucrats in the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv to buy Raytheon's excellent Vulcan Phalanx super-fast heavy machine gun and guidance system as a defense system against very-short-range ballistic missiles.

Barak told the respected Israeli newspaper Haaretz April 20 that he had finally taken the plunge to buy the Vulcan Phalanx system, a mature technology effective up to 4 miles in range that has operated superbly well for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and Iraq, for the Israel Defense Forces. It is expected to be deployed to guard Sderot and other Israeli communities in northwestern Negev that have been under bombardment for years from Gaza.

Israeli press reports have presented Barak as the hero who wanted to buy the Vulcan Phalanx before but was stymied by his own bureaucracy, but there appears to be a large element of spin control in those reports.

The fact is that Barak had bet heavily and publicly on the Israeli-manufactured Iron Dome to provide defense for the embattled town of Sderot and other communities within pre-1967 borders that have been relentlessly bombarded by Qassam rockets from Gaza for years. But the Iron Dome system is still years away even from prototype testing, let alone operational production and deployment.

Barak enthusiastically embraced the Iron Dome very-short-range BMD system after taking office in 2006. But as we have reported in these columns, Iron Dome, being developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, has progressed far more slowly, with far more difficulty and cost overruns than Barak and its planners anticipated, though they should have.

Israel's excellent Arrow air defense and anti-missile defense interceptor complements the Raytheon Patriot PAC-3 system of the U.S. Army, which Israel also operates, very well. But although Israel Aircraft Industries is the prime contractor for the Arrow II, at least 40 percent of its components and systems are produced by Boeing in the United States.

The Arrow therefore plays to the Israeli defense industrial sector's strength as providing local improvements, often dramatic ones, in capabilities and performance, to mature military technologies that have already been developed from scratch elsewhere.

Iron Dome, however, was always going to be a far more ambitious gamble, as we have been warning for years ever since Barak first publicly embraced it: It is a far more ambitious system and even its basic premise has long been scrutinized and criticized both in Israel and by U.S. experts.

Even if Israel can succeed in getting Iron Dome operable in the next few years, it will be far more expensive to manufacture a single interceptor for that program than any of the low-tech missiles it is designed to intercept. These are Qassam rockets fired into Israel from Gaza by Hamas, the Iran-backed Islamic Resistance Movement, or the multiple launch rocket mortars known as Katyushas fired by the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah, the Shiite Party of God, from Southern Lebanon, into northern Israel.

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