U.S. Cancels Rocket Interception Weapon Deal with Israel

(January 19, 2006)

The Pentagon recently announced that it was cancelling a joint program with Israel that was designed to intercept and destroy rockets, missles, and small aircraft. Over the past few years, Israel has been developing laser technology to intercept Kassam rockets fired into the country by Palestinians, and feel that the U.S. decision to cancel the joint program, called the U.S.-Israeli Nautilus mobile tactical high energy laser (MTHEL), is a missed opportunity to help Israel better protect its citizens. Now, according to Maj.-Gen. (res.) Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, Israelis will have to “live with Kassam rockets for decades” because of the program's cancellation.

Tha Nautilus laser program, which was developed over a decade ago, was originally intended to intercept Katyusha rockets fired by Hizballah in Lebanon against Israelis in the Galilee region. With the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Hizballah ceased heavy firing on the Galilee, so Israel decided to use the Nautilus to destroy Kassam rockets fired by Palestinians. When the technology was tested in the United States, it successfully destroyed Katyusha rockets and other bombs in mid-flight. However, when the $250 million prototype was completed five years ago, it was discovered that the system was too large to carry on trucks, making it almost impossible to be effective. In order to increase the effectiveness of the laser system and reduce the size, a plan was devised by both sides under which development of a light and mobile system would be completed by 2008-09 at an additional investment of $300-400 million.

The deal began to faulter when the U.S. started to criticize Israel for reducing its share of the cost for development. Israel said that its defense budget had been reduced and it was impossible to give more money to the Nautilus program. Israel has now learned that the Pentagon has ceased allocating funds to the project, which in effect stops development. A senior Israel Defense Ministry official said that “the U.S. had invested $50 million a year in the program, but decided not to add another cent this year. It’s impossible to continue the program without U.S. aid.” Some sources attribute the Pentagon's decision to cancel the program to the development of better laser technology.

Source: Amnon Barzilai, "US kills Nautilus laser gun," Globes, (January 18, 2006).