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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sderot sacrificed again: This time for Israel's defense industry

Sderot and the western Negev have been sacrificed yet again, this time for the financial well-being of Israel's defense industry.

A defense ministry delegation visited the United States this week and decided that it was 'not impressed' with the American Nautilus anti-missile system or its upgraded version, Skyguard. Therefore, Sderot and the western Negev will continue to have no anti-missile defense available for another two years until Israel's 'Iron Dome' system is ready.
The Defense Ministry stands behind its decision to develop the Iron Dome missile defense system and appears to not plan to purchase the Skyguard laser system under development by Northrop Grumman in the United States, senior defense officials said Thursday.

On Thursday night, Defense Ministry Dir.-Gen. Pinchas Buhris returned to Israel from a five-day trip to the US, during which he was in Washington, D.C. for talks at the Pentagon and paid a visit to White Sands, New Mexico to see the Nautilus laser system deployed there and be briefed on its upgraded version, Skyguard.

Defense officials told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that, while a final decision had yet to be made, the defense delegation to the US was not impressed by the Skyguard and walked away convinced that it had made the correct decision when choosing Rafael's Iron Dome last year as Israel's anti-Kassam defense system.

In White Sands, Buhris watched a test of the system which included the firing of 36 rockets, eight of which were intercepted. Defense officials said that this was further proof that the system was not feasible.
While the American system is not perfect, as I noted above, it will be another two years before Iron Dome is ready. And even then, Iron Dome is ineffective against missiles shot from less than four and a half kilometers away, which means it will be useless for protecting Sderot.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was surprised to learn last Sunday that the Iron Dome defense system, which was approved last year and was supposed to protect Israel's citizens against Qassam rockets, is not capable of alleviating the distress of Sderot inhabitants. "Recent tests found the system to be effective against rockets fired from more than four kilometers away, but not against those fired from closer range," Haaretz noted that same day in its lead story. Because Sderot is less than two kilometers from Beit Hanun, from which the rockets are being fired, Iron Dome will be helpless against them.


The fact that Iron Dome is not effective against short-range rockets and therefore cannot protect Sderot was long known to the system's developers and to the Defense Ministry officials who chose to focus on it. For some reason, they decided not to go public with their information. When the Defense Ministry officials, led by the defense minister, promised that the residents of Sderot would be protected after the installation of the Iron Dome system, they knew they would not be able to deliver on this promise.

One need not be privy to classified information in order to understand that Iron Dome is not the solution to the Qassam rockets. The data are public knowledge: The Qassam's speed in the air is 200 meters per second. The distance from the edge of Beit Hanun to the outskirts of Sderot is 1,800 meters. Therefore, a rocket launched from Beit Hanun takes about nine seconds to hit Sderot. The developers of Iron Dome at Rafael Advance Defense Systems know that the preparations to simply launch the intercept missiles at their target take up to about 15 seconds (during which time the system locates the target, determines the flight path and calculates the intercept route). Obviously, then, the Qassam will slam into Sderot quite a number of seconds before the missile meant to intercept it is even launched.


An examination of the economic aspect also casts grave doubts on the decision to choose Iron Dome. The cost of each intercept missile will probably be about $100,000. (Rafael claims the cost of a missile will be about $40,000, but given the cost of similar missiles, that does not seem reasonable.) In contrast, the cost of making a Qassam rocket is well under $100,000. So, if the Palestinians produce thousands of Qassams, the Israeli defense establishment will have to respond by manufacturing thousands of Iron Dome missiles, at a prohibitive cost of hundreds of millions of shekels. On the assumption that this information is known to everyone involved, it must be asked, again, how it came about that Iron Dome was chosen as the preferred solution to the Qassam rockets while other options were vehemently rejected.

The decision was made, seemingly, via a proper, orderly procedure. The Defense Ministry set up a professional committee to look into the matter, headed by Yaakov Nagel, the deputy chief for scientific affairs of the ministry's Directorate of Defense R&D. The committee examined 14 proposals for anti-rocket defense systems and chose Iron Dome. Two defense ministers approved the choice - Amir Peretz and Ehud Barak.

However, the impression of an orderly decision-making process is upended when it turns out that the senior staff at the Defense Ministry's R&D directorate strongly rejected the proposal to bring into Israel the laser-based Nautilus defense system, whose development is nearly complete and whose effectiveness was proved in a series of tests (100 percent success in 46 tests, including success in intercepting mortar shells). [I'm still trying to reconcile the 8 out of 36 noted above with the 100 percent success rate. If anyone has any ideas, I am all ears. CiJ]

Nautilus was developed in the United States in conjunction with Israel, but the Israeli defense establishment ended its participation in the project in 2001. The Americans went on with it, improved the system and changed its name to Skyguard. Northrop Grumman, the company that is developing the missile, promises that it can be delivered within 18 months at a relatively low cost. The Nautilus system itself, devised to protect Kiryat Shmona against Katyusha rockets, can be installed in Sderot within six months. By comparison, the development of Iron Dome will take another three years.

The major advantage of Skyguard is its use of a laser beam for interceptions. The beam travels at the speed of light, allowing the system to intercept short-range rockets like the ones aimed at Sderot. The cost of implementing the laser system is also far lower than Iron Dome. The cost of launching one laser beam will be between $1,000 and $2,000. On February 6, 2007, Mike McVey, vice president of Northrop Grumman's Directed Energy Systems business area, sent a letter to Ehud Olmert, with copies to the defense minister at the time, Amir Peretz, and the then director general of the Defense Ministry and present chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, undertaking to install in Israel an operational system within 18 months and at a fixed price ($177 million for the first system). As far as is known, McVey has not received a reply to this day.

Asked why Israel rejected the laser system, the Defense Ministry's spokesman replied: "The Nautilus system is defined as exemplifying technologies and not as an operational instrument. Bringing the Nautilus system into Israel today will cost about $100 million, and it might take up to two years for the system to become active. The Nautilus system is operationally inferior to the Iron Dome system, is far more costly and does not provide an answer to volleys of missiles, as Iron Dome is meant to do. Tests of Nautilus did not achieve the goal of 100 percent hits but far less, and even that under optimal conditions, which, regrettably, do not exist in the western Negev." The reply is studded with inaccuracies, to say the least.
As I noted in that previous post, there may be more to Israel's refusal to purchase Skyguard than meets the eye. Still, the decision to purchase Iron Dome and not Skyguard does not seem to have been made with the best interests of Israel's south in mind. But that's not surprising: It's only Sderot.


At 4:57 AM, Blogger Daniel434 said...

100 percent success in 46 tests, including success in intercepting mortar shells

That should make it more clear ;)

At 5:01 AM, Blogger Daniel434 said...

Actually never mind about above, I read it wrong as well. Too bad Israel didn't accept the deal, I have family working for Northrop Grumman. =/

At 6:49 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

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Its funny that even after the jews prove to the world how much they have contributed to the advancement of mankind, people still believe to eagerly type something negative about the jews.. Why? No no REALLY why?? Im not saying that they are perfect and error-less. everybody has their own defects but seriously, if you really look at the big picture, the world and everything in it, you would most definitely see that it is quite foolish to speak in such ways about the jews.. If anybody needs some more info about if the jews werent here, then I can tell them exactly what kind of world this would have been without them.. Oh by the way, did you know that the little camera on your cell phone was invented in Israel by the jews.. Funny isnt it :)
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