Rafael to double Iron Dome production

The Iron Dome batteries at Ashkelon and Beersheva have intercepted over 90% of rockets that would have hit populated areas.

Sources inform ''Globes'' that Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. will invest tens of millions of shekels in the coming months to open a second production line for the Iron Dome's Tamir missiles, which intercept the Kassam and Grad rockets fired at Israel from Gaza.

The Ministry of Defense is in talks to speed up production and procure the Tamir missiles, partly in view of the latest round of confrontation in Gaza, which involved the firing of scores of rockets against Israeli cities from Ashdod to Beersheva.

The Israel Air Force's two operational Iron Dome batteries are based at Ashkelon and Beersheva. They intercepted over 90% of the rockets that would have hit populated areas, over the past few days, including an estimated 25 Grad rockets.

Rafael has just one production line for the Tamir interceptor missiles. Future operational needs, as well as the plan to establish two more Iron Dome batteries by the end of the year, necessitate the doubling of the missile production. Rafael is due to deliver the third Iron Dome battery to the Air Force in three weeks, and it will probably be based in Ashdod, which was inadequately protected against Grad rockets in last week's fighting.

The fourth battery is due to be ready by the end of the year, and it will probably be based in Sderot, which has been the target of Qassam rockets fired by terrorists in Gaza since the start of the second intifada in October 2000.

The Air Force Air Defense Network plans to have at least nine Iron Dome batteries nationwide by 2013. A special US aid grant of $205 million will finance the procurement of four batteries.

A Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee report estimates that 13 Iron Dome batteries are needed to protect threatened areas nationwide. Each battery costs $50 million, including the innovative radar systems developed by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) unit Elta Systems.

Each Tamir interceptor missile reportedly costs $70,000-100,000.

While Iron Dome was under development, many sources were skeptical about the economic feasibility of developing an advanced anti-missile system, since the price of rockets it is designed to intercept can be as low as a few hundred dollars. Iron Dome's baptism of fire came in April, when it successfully intercepted a Grad rocket targeting Ashkelon. Defense source said that the system's success may have prevented two subsequent confrontations from escalating, because if there was extensive damage or casualties, public pressure could have pushed the government into authorizing an assault on Gaza similar to Operation Cast Lead in the winter of 2009.

Iron Dome's operational success has drawn the attention of several armies. It is the first system of its kind in the world, and was developed in the quite fast time of three and a half years. Iron Dome and the Tamir missile have been displayed at several arms shows around the world, and the Ministry of Defense has said that exports would lower the price of the system, enabling more procurements.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 23, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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