While a senior Military Intelligence officer said Thursday the IDF was limited in its ability to stop Kassam attacks, The Jerusalem Post has learned that the Defense Ministry is holding high-level talks with the Pentagon on purchasing a rapid-fire cannon to protect strategic installations from the primitive Palestinian rockets.
The system under consideration was developed by leading American defense firm Raytheon and is an offshoot of a model designed to protect against ship-to-ship missiles that is today installed on Israeli missile vessels.
Each land-based system would cost about $15 million. The cannon uses a 20 mm M61A1 Gatling gun firing 3,000 or 4,500 M-246 or M-940 self-destruct rounds per minute.
Called the Phalanx B, or C-Ram, the system was sent to Iraq last year and is used by the Americans to protect the Green Zone in Baghdad and by the British to protect their forces in the country's south.
The C-RAM is a variant of the American Vulcan Phalanx, a 20 mm cannon designed to defend navy ships from missiles, and is controlled by an advanced radar system that detects and locks in on incoming enemy projectiles.
Several weeks ago, a senior delegation of officials from the Defense Ministry's Research and Development Authority visited the US for talks with Pentagon and Raytheon officials.
The officials said that even though the system would require advanced testing, they were confident that the C-RAM would be capable of intercepting Kassam rockets as well as mortar shells, which it has already proven itself capable of doing in Iraq.
According to top officials, while the system would not be effective in protecting a city like Sderot - its radius of operation is only several hundred meters - it could be ideal for protecting strategic installations such as the Ashkelon power plant and the IDF's Zikim Base, frequently targeted by Gazan rocket squads.
"This is a very effective system for protecting strategic installations," Uzi Rubin, a missile expert and a former director of the Defense Ministry's Homa Missile Defense Agency, told the Post. "It covers a radius of up to a kilometer and would be ideal for protecting key installations like power plants and IDF bases."
Rubin said the C-RAM could have been bought by Israel years ago but this had been held up by bureaucracy and difficulty in finding the needed funding.
Also Thursday, IDF Chief Intelligence Officer Brig.-Gen. Yuval Halamish said Israel's ability to counter and to deal with the Kassam threat was almost nonexistent.
Speaking at a conference at Tel Aviv University called "Electro-Optics on the Future Battlefield," Halamish said that sometimes luck was more of a factor in facing the Kassam than Israel's military capabilities.
"This is a close-to-home threat that has an impact on the home front as well as the national morale," he said. "Our ability to deal with this threat is difficult until being almost impossible in certain places."
Halamish's made his comments as a Kassam rocket detonated next to a school in Sderot. No one was wounded, but 18 people were being treated for shock, including 10 children.