(photo credit: Northrop Grumman Artwork)
Northrop Grumman, the US defense contractor that makes the Skyguard anti-missile laser system, was refused meetings with senior Defense Ministry officials this week, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Skyguard, also known as Nautilus, is a laser cannon capable of intercepting short-range projectiles such as Kassam rockets. It was developed by the US Army in conjunction with the IDF. Israel, which invested $100 million in the project over the past decade, has suspended its participation following a similar decision by the US Army.
After the recent war in Lebanon, Defense Minister Amir Peretz appointed ministry Director-General Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi to head a committee to choose an anti-missile defense system for purchase. According to ministry officials, the panel plans to issue its recommendation in the coming weeks.
Last week, Northrop Grumman asked to meet with officials from the Defense Ministry's Research and Development Authority about the suspended Skyguard project this week. One system has already been tested at the US Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and according to Northrop Grumman, it could be deployed in Israel within six months.
According to Israeli defense officials, Northrop Grumman asked for a meeting but did not plan to present any new findings. Northrop Grumman is waiting for Pentagon approval to present improvements made to the product to the Israeli defense establishment.
The main issue concerns the system's range. Israel was last told that the system only covers a three-kilometer area, meaning dozens of systems at a cost of billions of dollars would be needed to protect the entire northern border. The Defense Ministry is waiting to see if the company was successful in increasing the system's range to 10 km.
"There is no point meeting with them if they have nothing new to show us," said one defense official. "We told them that when they have something new to tell us we are ready to listen."
Northrop Grumman was unavailable for comment.