The Fantasy World of Arms Development

The only problem, however, is that a fair number of these ideas and developments are superfluous and untenable - and, no less significant, extremely costly.

The defense establishment is not resting on its laurels. The minds of those entrusted with the security of the state are once again coming up with fantastic ideas for the development of more and more sophisticated and innovative weapons systems. These weapons systems place Israel's defense industries at the forefront of global technology, and are sources of pride for the engineers, the senior officers and even the entire Israeli public.

The only problem, however, is that a fair number of these ideas and developments are superfluous and untenable - and, no less significant, extremely costly. The defense establishment invests billions of dollars in sophisticated weapons systems, including a number of truly revolutionary ones, some of which aren't needed, while others have very little chance, at best, of meeting their said objectives.

Due to the veil of secrecy hanging over a large number of the weapons systems developed in Israel, the public is completely in the dark when it comes to their scope, objectives and budgets. The state comptroller aims his barbs at superfluous and wasteful defense projects from time to time, but due to security constraints, he takes care not to divulge most of the data pertaining to such projects and uses codes shared by only those in the know.

There is, however, one field in which the defense establishment takes pains to expose innovative weapons-systems developments. Every now and then, concerned Israelis are proudly informed of the sophisticated ideas that will guarantee protection against rockets and missiles - the Arrow missile system that is supposed to offer defense against Iran's ballistic missiles; the Nautilus system that will use laser beams to destroy any Katyusha rocket fired from Lebanon; and also a fantastic system that will intercept the Qassams.

These are three projects, in which billions of dollars have been pumped until now. The one, the Arrow, is a waste of time, and any future enemy will be able to defeat it by means of negligible changes to its ballistic missiles. The second, the Nautilus (about which Shimon Peres promised already back in 1996 that it would very soon be able to intercept Katyushas), has very little chance of being completed within a reasonable time or of meeting its objectives. And the third, an anti-Qassam missile, borders on technological fantasy.

And then we learned that the defense establishment has identified another threat that requires a sophisticated solution and has decided to invest hundreds of millions of shekels in a new defense system - this time, against rockets in the hands of Hezbollah, arms that have a longer range than the Katyushas and that the organization has yet to use against Israel. We'll develop a missile against the rockets, and we'll even call it a mini-Arrow, as a sign of continuity in our strategic thinking.

As expected, the civilian policy-makers in the government and the Knesset will not even try to seriously review the operational concept, the need for the defense system and the proposed technology. And, as usual, they will allow the defense establishment to go about its business without the unnecessary disturbance of civilian control.

It's a shame, because if publicly elected officials were to take the trouble to look over the proposed plan, they would realize that they are obliged to order its immediate cancelation. This system is a lot more expensive than they will be told; the chances of achieving a level of development that will facilitate efficient interception are very low; the Israel Defense Forces already has a defense system designed to intercept similar threats; the system's inherent strategic concept is outlandish; and, primarily, it is a superfluous system in light of the nature of the threat with which it is supposed to deal.

From a professional perspective, the technological challenge involved in the attempt to intercept a short-range rocket (20-75 kilometers) is so great that it is doubtful whether it can be achieved at a reasonable cost. The rocket's brief flight-time requires a defense system to deal with problems of detection, monitoring, launch and interception for which no efficient solution has yet to be found anywhere in the world. Research and development work with the view to finding technological solutions will require huge financial resources - and even then, coming up with an efficient solution may not be possible.

Furthermore, the IDF already has the Patriot system, which is designed to intercept missiles and rockets with ranges of tens of kilometers. Why then develop a new system? After all, if they decide on the need to intercept these rockets, the Patriot can be upgraded.

But even if the engineers are successful in their development work, and the defense system is able to intercept the rockets deployed in Lebanon, it would still be a mistake to invest in the project. Hezbollah, after all, has some 13,000 Katyushas and rockets (just a few thousand of the latter). Due to the high price of every intercepting missile (for the sake of comparison, the current price of one Arrow missile is some $3 million), the IDF will be able to procure no more than 100-200 of them. They will be of no help if Hezbollah decides to use its rockets.

It is impossible to cope with the large supply of rockets deployed in Lebanon on the military-defense level. There is no practical possibility of defending oneself against such a large quantity of rockets. Clearly, if the Israeli deterrent that has proved itself over the five years since the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon fails, and Hezbollah launches rockets deep into Israel, Israel will surely respond by attacking targets deep in Lebanon and not by hopelessly trying to intercept thousands of rockets.

Regrettably, as as been the case in the past, the defense establishment will continue to invest many millions because there is no one to put the brakes on such grandiose, expensive and superfluous initiatives.