Israel's ability to shoot down hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas militants this past week has been hailed as a breakthrough in missile defense. But, military analysts warn, the real challenge is only beginning.
Unlike the homemade, rudimentary rockets used by Hamas, thousands of sophisticated missiles with greater ranges and payloads are being stockpiled in Lebanon by Hezbollah, another militant group. Israel's leaders, who consider these weapons and longer-range missiles from Iran potential threats, have turned to engineers from Waltham-based Raytheon Co. to help develop the next-generation interceptor missile.
A critical test of the system, called the Stunner, is set for Israel's Negev Desert in coming days.
Israelis are counting on the missile to become the centerpiece of their defense shield, known as David's Sling. US officials involved in the program and several independent specialists said the engineering challenge they face is aptly captured by the reference to the Old Testament mismatch between David and Goliath.
"The problem you run into is it is a much more difficult target, which means your missile interceptor needs to be very capable," said Theodore A. Postol, professor of science, technology, and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former adviser to the US Navy.
David's Sling is designed to complement Israel's current system, dubbed Iron Dome, which destroyed nearly 400 incoming rockets from Gaza in the latest conflict. Iron Dome batteries are outfitted with a radar sensor designed to determine within seconds of launch which rockets are headed for populated areas. Only then does the system engage the most threatening rockets with a missile, known as the Tamir.
Israeli officials say they had a 90 percent success rate in knocking down such rockets from Gaza. The assertion could not be independently verified.
Hezbollah's missiles, designed by Iran and Russia and smuggled from Syria, are capable of traveling faster and reaching virtually all of Israel -- a range of more than 150 miles. They also contain a guidance system that makes them a greater threat to populated areas, according to officials.
"It is not just Hezbollah," said Gabriel Scheinmann, a visiting fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs in Washington. "There is also the threat of Scud missiles, especially if you are looking at what is going on in Syria," where a civil war is igniting concerns about that country's massive stockpile of missiles and chemical weapons. Russian-built Scuds are capable of traveling hundreds of miles and can carry large warheads.
SOURCE: Bryan Bender
The Boston Globe
The Boston Globe