WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is once again considering offering Israel the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) anti-ballistic missile system instead of helping Israel finance most of the development of the Arrow-3 system, Ynet has learned.
Congress is expected to discuss the matter shortly. Israel has rejected a similar offer in the past.
Unlike the Arrow, which is placed on land and is only aimed at intercepting ballistic missiles, the SM-3 is used by the US Navy and is aimed at intercepting aircraft, ships and missiles threatening warships.
The Arrow-3 system, an advanced model of the Arrow interception missile, is slated to help Israel intercept ballistic missiles in a much wider range than the range reached by Arrow-2 missiles, which are now being operationally used as part of the Israel Air Force's antiaircraft lineup.
The new missile, which is in its development stages in an Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) factory, should also be able to intercept ballistic missiles in heights of more than 100 kilometers (i.e. outside the atmosphere).
The Americans are attributing this change in policy to cuts in the US security establishment's investments in foreign technologies, but it appears that pressure from Raytheon, the company that manufactures the SM-3, has also played a role in this development.
Following his meeting with a delegation of US senators and congressman Saturday evening, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a closed Labor Party forum "we have joint projects with them (US); I'm not talking about the Iron Dome missile defense system, but about defense against long-range missiles.
"But due to the economic crisis in the US, they are cutting budgets and want to allocate some of funds toward purely American projects that better suit the US' needs," he said.
"We are trying to convince them to continue funding the Arrow, or rather the 'Super-Arrow', so we may complete its development," Barak said without elaborating.
'Crucial to Israel's existence'
On February 21, 2008 the USS Lake Erie, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, fired a single SM-3 missile, hit and successfully destroyed the satellite, with a closing velocity of about 22,783 mph while the satellite was 133 nautical miles above the Pacific Ocean.
Israel objected to the development of the SM-3 at the expense of the US funding of the new Arrow program, as the Defense Ministry prefers to provide work to Israeli industries and because the cost of the new SM-3 is estimated at $10-12 million per missile, while the Arrow-3 will only cost 1.5-2 million per unit.
Another reason is that the Arrow missiles have already been successfully tested as an anti-ballistic missile system and would better serve Israel's defense needs.
The need for the Arrow-3 missile has become crucial in light of the progress made in the Iranian nuclear program. According to estimates, it would be possible to place first operational Arrow-3 batteries within three years, should the development carry on with no budgetary and technological delays.
Experts have claimed that Israel cannot give up on the development of the Arrow-3, with one of them saying it was "crucial to Israel's existence."
Congress is also expected to discuss the possibility of reducing its investment in the manufacturing of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. The US has already approved the sale to Israel of 25 of these aircraft and an option for 50 more in coming years – a deal valued at up to $15.2 billion.
Should the US reduce its funding of the manufacturing of these planes, fewer orders for the plane and a subsequent price hike are expected, possibly making the deal undesirable for Israel.
Ron Ben-Yishai contributed to the report