IDF deploys new radar system near Gaza

Radar hoped to provide security to southern Israeli towns.

kassam on ground 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
kassam on ground 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF has deployed a sophisticated new radar system near the Gaza Strip, which it is hoped will give early warning to Israeli residents of incoming Katyusha missiles, Kassam rockets and possibly mortar rounds, military sources have told The Jerusalem Post. The system is the prototype for a state-of-the-art wider missile defense system, the Nautilus, which has been in joint development by Israel and the United States for almost a decade and is ultimately intended to be able to intercept such incoming fire with a high-energy laser beam. But it is not clear when, or even if, the full Nautilus laser gun, which in testing by the US has tracked and successfully intercepted Katyushas and mortar rounds, could be ready for deployment. The system is also known as a Tactical High-Energy Laser (THEL). The radar has been in place for at least one month, but it is not known whether it successfully tracked any of the Kassams fired from the Gaza Strip last month following disengagement. The IDF is testing the Nautilus radar to supplement the robust TPQ radar system already used to detect Kassam rocket attacks. The TPQ is the system which activates the Red Dawn alert sirens in Sderot and other borderline communities to warn residents of incoming rockets. According to security sources intimately familiar with the design, the THEL radar is designed to track 15 targets simultaneously. The full system would then use a powerful laser to fire a beam intended to destroy incoming missiles, rockets and even some artillery and mortar shells. Sources said it is able to fire a beam every five seconds. The program was started in 1996 to provide an answer to Katyusha threats along the Lebanon border. The US stepped in since it believed it could be developed as a mobile laser to give theater-based protection to its forces. Developed in conjunction with Northrop-Grumman, the project has cost nearly $90 million. It was supposed to be ready for the battlefield by 2007, but the program was recently shelved by the US since it proved too bulky to make the mobile version requested by the US Army. Israel is still hoping to salvage the program, because the issue of mobility is deemed less critical here. The fixed version of the laser is apparently still at the White Sands missile range in New Mexico, but could possibly be sent to Israel should testing with the radar prove successful. Home Front Command sources have said they are working feverishly to come up with a warning system that would detect incoming mortar rounds. Without mentioning the Nautilus, they have said a solution is very close. In addition, a senior Home Front officer said they believe the Palestinians have reached the ultimate range of Kassam rockets and would not be able to increase the number of Israelis being threatened by the homemade missiles.