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Tel Aviv, Israel (UPI) Sep 13, 2013
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, one of Israel's leading defense companies, and the Raytheon Co., based in the United States, are reported to be seeking to integrate the jointly funded Israeli-made Stunner air-defense interceptor missile into an advanced version of the U.S. Patriot system.
The moves comes amid growing U.S. interest in co-production deals on air-defense systems that are being produced or developed by state-owned Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries to protect the Jewish state from threatened missile bombardment by Iran and other regional foes.
Despite Israeli misgivings, this and other co-production arrangements involving defense systems could materialize, in large part for economic reasons, given current defense spending cuts.
"Scores of major U.S. manufacturers -- from General Electric to General Motors -- have research and development centers and technology incubators in Israel," Michael Eisenstadt and David Pollock of the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy observed in March. "Across the United States, Israeli firms or their subsidiaries have set up manufacturing plants that employ tens of thousands of Americans ... .
"These partnerships have helped the United States preserve its military edge. When the United States gives Israel $3 billion in annual military aid, 75 percent of it comes back to purchase American-made products and services."
All four of the anti-missile systems under production or development have been heavily financed by the United States.
Arrow-3 is being developed by IAI, based in Tel Aviv, and the Boeing Co.
The system is designed to intercept hostile ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere and will constitute the top layer of a four-tier anti-missile shield Israel is constructing.
David's Sling, intended to destroy medium-range missiles, is being developed by Rafael, based in Haifa, and Raytheon. It's scheduled to become operational in 2014.
The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency -- for the first time -- included funds in April totaling nearly $400 million in its annual budget for Rafael's groundbreaking Iron Dome missile defense system in fiscal 2014 and 2015.
Iron Dome, the bottom layer of the Israeli shield, has been operational since early 2011. It's the only air-defense system in the world to use radar-guided interceptors to counter short-range threats.
Israeli officials say it has a kill rate of 90 percent, an achievement that's been widely questioned by missile specialists and analysts.
But it's been allocated $700 million in U.S. funds, primarily so the Israelis can buy Iron Dome batteries, each costing around $90,000, to protect Israeli cities.
The U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, which has been highly supportive of funding Israel's anti-missile systems, called on the MDA in 2012 "to explore any opportunity to enter co-production" of Iron Dome in view of the U.S. financing of that system."
The Americans were not always so enthusiastic about Iron Dome.
When Israel was scrambling to find weapons to counter the 4,000 rockets with which Lebanon's Hezbollah had battered the country during a 34-day war in 2006, military experts said such a system would be too expensive and not effective.
They recommended Israel acquire the U.S.-made Phalanx air-defense system.
To be fair, there were doubters in Israel's defense establishment as well.
But in 2008, U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama -- then a U.S. senator from Illinois -- visited Israel, and after his election in 2009, he endorsed the Iron Dome concept so Israel could maintain its Qualitative Military Edge.
The joint production concept was first proposed by Washington in 2011 -- and rejected by Israeli. But with heavily reduced defense budgets in the United States and Israel, the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv became concerned about cutbacks in U.S. funding for Iron Dome and other systems deemed vital to the state's protection.
Following the House committee's proposal, Brig. Gen. Shachar Shohat, commander of Israel's air-defense force, appeared more amenable to the idea and said it was important Israel demonstrate its appreciation to Obama for his support.
Shohat supported the idea of a U.S. plant to produce Iron Dome's Tamir interceptor missiles, calling it "a win-win situation" for both allies since he needed missile defense units "as quickly as possible."
"I understand the need of the other side to encourage investment in it side ... certainly given U.S. policy of trying to create jobs during a troubled economic situation," he said. "To me, it's clear that the American partner also has to look out for the American economy."
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