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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Israel seeks U.S. Phalanx system for defense against rocket barrage

TEL AVIV — Israel plans to test several U.S.-origin artillery systems for short-term defenses against Palestinian short-range missile and rocket strikes from the Gaza Strip.

Officials said Defense Minister Ehud Barak intends to submit a request for the Phalanx close-in weapon system from the U.S. Army. They said Barak has agreed to consider Phalanx to counter short-range enemy missiles and rockets.

"The Defense Ministry has received reports on the effectiveness of Phalanx against mortars and Kassams," an official said. "Barak believes this could serve as an interim solution against the Palestinian missile threat from the Gaza Strip."

[On July 29, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli military has deployed a laser missile defense system near the border of the Gaza Strip. The newspaper identified the system as the Laser Air Defense System, developed by Raytheon and ordered by the U.S. military in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.]

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The U.S. Army has used a Phalanx-derivative to defend against mortar and rocket strikes on bases and other installations in Iraq. Phalanx, which employs an M61A1 Gatling gun, was capable of intensive 20 mm M-246 or M-940 fire that could destroy incoming enemy projectiles. The rate of fire by the system's six gun barrels was reported at up to 4,500 rounds per minute.

Phalanx, manufactured by Raytheon, has been described as a rapid-fire, computer-controlled, radar-guided gun system designed to defeat anti-ship missiles and other close-in air and surface threats. Phalanx Block 1B, the latest variant, contains a forward-looking infrared sensor, Ku-band radar, optimized gun barrels and control stations that allow operators to visually track and identify targets before engagement.

Officials said Barak does not seek to bring Phalanx to Israel for trials in 2008. Instead, the defense minister intends to ask the Bush administration for the U.S. military's assessments of Phalanx for rocket defense. Industry sources said Phalanx 1B had a shoot-down capability of up to 70 percent.

On July 28, Barak arrived in the United States for meetings with senior U.S. officials and commanders. Barak has met Vice President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Gates said the United States would seek to enhance Israel's missile defense capabilities, including the option of deploying a U.S. early-warning X-band radar to detect Iranian missile launches. Officials said the Bush administration would also ask Congress to fund the Iron Dome missile and rocket defense system.

"Like the Israelis, we see the Iranians racing to build a ballistic missile capability and so we are working to help the Israelis fortify their defenses as quickly as possible," U.S. Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Later, an Israeli government statement quoted Gates as pledging to examine the provision of a range of U.S. missile defense assets. The Israeli statement cited a U.S. forward deployed missile defense radar, missile early-warning launch data as well as assets to intercept short-range mortars and rockets.

Israel has sought to complete development of and deploy Iron Dome in 2011. But Barak has urged the Defense Ministry to consider interim solutions in expectation that Hamas and its militia allies would soon resume daily missile and rocket strikes from the Gaza Strip.

Raytheon and the U.S. Navy have developed Centurion, based on Phalanx 1B, to counter artillery, rocket and mortar fire. Centurion underwent what Raytheon said were successful trials in 2004.

Phalanx has also been installed as a key element in the U.S. Army's Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar, or C-RAM, system. The army has selected Northrop Grumman for the C-RAM project, which contains a ground-based version of Phalanx as well as the Q-36 target acquisition radar.

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