Defense Ministry to reexamine anti-missile laser

The decision was taken in view of the threat posed by Hizbullah attacks on strategic sites such as Oil Refineries Haifa.

The Ministry of Defense has 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. The letter, which listed a number of queries about the system, 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 Perez, and was forwarded to the Pentagon by Israels military attaché in Washington, Major General Dan Harel.

The decision to reconsider use of the Skyguard system was taken in view of the strategic threat posed by Hizbullah rocket attacks on strategic sites such as Oil Refineries and chemical factories in the Haifa Bay area. The latest model of the Skyguard is still on the drawing boards, so no evaluation of its performance can be made at this point.

In its letter the Ministry has requested, among other things, the following data: models prepared by the projects 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 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.

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 systems saturation point. Having exposed this, Hizbullah or Hamas would simply step up their barrages next time round, in order to penetrate the systems 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 Israels borders such as Sderot.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on August 13, 2006

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2006

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