In recent months Israel and the United States have discussed the possibility of an Israel acquiring the American-made missile defense system THAAD, instead of developing a new generation of the indigenous Arrow defense missile.
Israeli decision-makers will have to make up their minds in the coming year whether to commit to acquiring the American weapon system or invest in the development of a more advanced Arrow.
The American THAAD (Theater High-Altitude Area Defense), developed more than a decade ago, and whose mission is similar to that of the Arrow, failed in initial testing and the timetable for the completion of its development has been delayed on a number of occasions. However, in 2006 the system passed a number of critical tests, including the interception of targets simulating enemy missiles.
The system includes components and technologies that are not part of the current generation of the Arrow, which is in operational service with the Israel Air Force.
The United States will be able to provide Israel with THAAD missiles by 2009, at which time the maker of the system, Lockheed Martin, will have completed development and testing, Washington sources say.
The same sources added that Israel will be able to purchase THAAD with American military funding assistance, and have in its arsenal the same advanced missile system that will be used by U.S. armed forces.
However, the American missile system still suffers from a number of technological bugs that have not yet been resolved.
The discussions over the acquisition of the missile were held on the professional level, among experts in missile defense technologies. The final decision will be made by the political echelons.
American sources said that Israel's decision will have to be made "fairly soon."
Israel's dilemma revolves around both the costs of continuing the development of the Arrow system and issues of technological and operational independence.
When Ehud Barak was chief of staff, he opposed the development of the Arrow and the creation of the "Homa" anti-ballistic defense system, arguing that the cost of independent development was too high and that it would be wiser to acquire THAAD.
Rabin decided otherwise
Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin decided otherwise, explaining that the Americans would only agree to transfer to Israel the advanced technologies included in THAAD if they are convinced that it can develop its own independent capabilities and compete with the American industry.
Funding for the development and production of the Arrow came mostly from American aid sources.
Some of the components of the missile are produced in the Boeing plants in Mississippi and Alabama, in cooperation with the prime contractor in the Arrow project, Israel Aircraft Industries.
In recent years, Congress voted in favor of significantly higher financial contributions to the Arrow project than originally requested by the administration.
Production of the Arrow is continuing as planned, and preparations have been completed for holding another test in the near future.
At this stage there has been no significant effort to export the Arrow. In any case, American involvement in the Arrow's development limits Israel's ability to offer the system to various countries.
The presence of American technology in the missile allows the Defense Department to veto the transfer of technology to third countries.
To date, the U.S. has opposed efforts to export the Arrow to India, which expressed interest in the defensive system, and to other countries.
This opposition means that Israel has less available funding for the independent development of next generation Arrow missiles.
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