(photo credit: Northrop Grumman Artwork)
With two weeks left before Defense Minister Dir.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is scheduled to reveal the anti-Kassam system the government plans to adopt and develop, US defense conglomerate Northrop Grumman retook its place in the contest this week after it finally presented new findings on its laser cannon to Israeli defense officials.
Last week, The Jerusalem Post learned, officials from the Pentagon and Northrop Grumman came to Tel Aviv for a meeting with the Defense Ministry's Research and Development Authority (MAFAT), assigned the task of choosing a short-range missile interception system that would counter the Kassam rockets from Gaza and the Katyusha rockets from Lebanon.
Israeli defense officials said that following the presentation by Northrop Grumman, the company was "back in the race" and stood a chance at winning the estimated $300 million deal.
Formerly known as the Nautilus, the Skyguard was developed by the US Army in conjunction with the IDF as a laser cannon capable of intercepting short-range missiles and projectiles, such as the Palestinian homemade Kassam rocket fired from the Gaza Strip. Israel, which invested $100 million in the project over the past decade, several years ago decided to suspend its participation and investments following a similar decision by the US Army.
During the meeting, which officials said lasted several hours, defense officials received answers on the system's range and were also told that the system covers close to 10 kilometers of territory, far more than the three kilometers it was initially capable of protecting when it was first developed.
"The system is operational for rocket defense in Gaza and the North," Dan Wildt, director of business development for directed energy systems at Northrop Grumman, told the Post Tuesday.
One of the Northrop Grumman officials who visited Tel Aviv last week, Wildt said that the number of units Israel would need to defend its southern and northern fronts was less than defense officials had initially estimated. He said the system could be delivered to Israel within a year-and-a-half.
"One unit could defend Sderot and one unit could defend Ashkelon," Wildt said. "We can also have an operational system in Israel within 18 months of when the order is made."
Following the war in Lebanon, Defense Minister Amir Peretz appointed Ashkenazi to head a committee to locate and purchase an anti-missile defense system. According to officials, the committee plans to make its recommendation by the end of the week.
Northrop Grumman had been asking for a meeting with Israeli defense officials for several months but the meeting was only set after the US company received permission from the Pentagon to present Israel with classified information concerning the capabilities of the newly-upgraded system.
One system has already been tested at the US Armed Forces missile range in White Sands, New Mexico and, according to Northrop Grumman, could be operational and deployed in Israel within six months.