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Monday, August 14, 2006

Defense Ministry to reexamine anti-missile laser

In last night's editions, Globes, Israel's business daily, reported that the defense ministry is re-examining the development of the Skyguard anti-missile laser in light of Hezbullah's threats to the oil refineries and chemical plants of the Haifa Bay area during the last month. Last month, contractor Northrop Grumman Corporation had offered to complete the laser, whose development had been suspended by the United States and Israel due to budgetary constraints.

Israel's Ministry of Defense asked the US Department of Defense for information about the new model of the Skyguard Laser system for intercepting short-range Katushya and Kassam rockets in a letter, which listed a number of queries about the system. The letter was sent by Ministry of Defense directorate of defense R&D head Brig.-Gen (res) Shmuel Keren on the instructions of Minister of Defense Amir Peretz, and was forwarded to the Pentagon by Israel’s military attaché in Washington, Major General Dan Harel.

The defense ministry asked for models prepared by the project’s main contractor Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC), that served as the basis for the determining of an effective target range of 6-8 kilometers; findings corroborating the determination that the system can provide a response not just to mass produced rockets but also to those built using makeshift methods and which lack a standard aerodynamic structure; the rate of possible evasion of laser detection by isolated rockets which could then hit sensitive sites; and the ability of contractors to appropriate the requisite funding for completing the modeling technology, building operational systems, and completing the project within a predetermined timeline.

Here's the curious part:
Sources inform ''Globes'' that Keren is the strongest opponent to the continued development of the laser system. Formerly Chief Artillery Corps. Officer, Keren has claimed in internal discussions that that it would not take long for a multiple rocket attack to expose the system’s saturation point [Recall that on several occasions this past month, Hezbullah shot dozens of Katyushas at once. CiJ]. Having exposed this, Hizbullah or Hamas would simply step up their barrages next time round, in order to penetrate the system’s defensive shield.

Northrop Grumman said in response that it had managed to develop software that would enable surplus interception using existing radar systems, in a similar mode to the Green Pine system used by the Arrow anti-ballistic missile. This software can provide the radar system with retroactive data on the precise location of rocket launches and anticipated points of impacts, based on the characteristics of the trajectory of each Katushya or Kassam rocket.

According to its plan, Northrop Grumman will need $300-400 million to complete development and build a prototype of the Skyguard. The company said that the new model will retain the original effective target range of 6-8 km and that the development would be completed within 12-18 months. Each interception system will cost an estimated $30-50 million. Northrop Grumman has proposed that the laser systems be stationed near every sensitive site or densely populated town near Israel’s borders such as Sderot.
If there's no better system out there - and there doesn't appear to be one - I would say that you have to go for it.


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