Defense Minister Ehud Barak has ordered his ministry to buy the Vulcan-Phalanx system from the U.S. for the protection of southern towns and strategic facilities. The systems will provide early warning and interception of short-range Qassam rockets and mortar shells fired from the Gaza Strip.
"The Vulcan-Phalanx cannons and radar will be part of a multi-layer defense to intercept rockets," Barak told Haaretz Monday. "Such defense, as far as I am concerned, is a strategic goal. The goal is to create a situation where as many rockets as possible launched at Israel are intercepted."
Israel is in the midst of putting together a multi-layered system that will intercept and protect against rockets.
The Vulcan-Phalanx will be the front-line defense system; while the Iron Dome system, still under development by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, will intercept longer-range rockets of over five kilometers.
Another system is under joint development by Rafael and U.S. defense contractor Raytheon against short-range ballistic missiles with ranges from 40 kilometers to about 200 kilometers; and the Hetz anti-ballistic missile system and its newer version are planned to protect against longer range missiles.
Barak made his decision to bring the Vulcan-Phalanx to Israel even before the new government was formed, despite the opposition of senior Defense Ministry officials, who raised numerous objections.
Since becoming defense minister, Barak has worked to change their minds. In particular, the Air Force and the Administration for the Development of Weapons and the Technological Industry in the ministry have objected to purchasing any system not made in Israel.
The Vulcan-Phalanx system is composed of two parts: The self-contained Phalanx radar for acquiring and targeting the rockets, and the 20 millimeter Vulcan Gatling gun made to actually shoot down the rocket.
The cannon is used on American and Israeli navy ships for protection and on aircraft and also has a ground based version. The multi-barreled guns can fire up to 6,000 shells per minute, and covers a 1,200 square meter area. The systems cost $25 million each.
Future production pledged to U.S. army
Israel has asked the Pentagon in the past to buy a single Vulcan-Phalanx system, but the U.S. military, which has used the weapons with great success in both Afghanistan and Iraq, is unwilling to part with even one for now.
A separate request from the Defense Ministry to the manufacturer revealed that all the units to be produced in coming years are committed to the U.S. military. Therefore, Barak is planning to ask his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, on his June visit to Washington to move Israel up to the top of the list and receive at least one system as soon as possible. Should Gates agree, the first Vulcan-Phalanx may arrive by winter.
If the system passes a battery of tests and proves effective, Barak will order more systems.
Ministry director general Pinchas Buchris, who has spoken against the Vulcan-Phalanx, is expected to travel to the U.S. to view a demo of the system.
Israel has already ordered the Phalanx radar system separately, unrelated to the rest of the system. The radar devices will be deployed in the south to detect the firing of rockets and mortar shells from Gaza, and will provide about a 20-second warning to area communities.
Today, Israel does not have any warning radar capable of picking up mortar shells. The Color Red warning system, which is already operational, only warns against Qassam rockets.