TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli Defense Ministry experts are evaluating a one-size-fits-all missile defense concept that promises to shoot down primitive short-range Palestinian Qassam rockets, advanced long-range Iranian Shihab-class missiles and everything in between.
Billed as a low-cost answer to rockets and missiles fired from 5 to 1,500 kilometers away, the proposed interceptor is the brainchild of Dov Raviv, a veteran rocket scientist and former Israel Aircraft Industries executive who pioneered development of the nation’s Arrow anti-missile system.
Called Hotzetz (Separator), the Raviv concept is a high-acceleration, supersonic, maneuvering missile that sustains velocity as it approaches its target. The entire missile, including blast fragmentation warhead, weighs less than 90.7 kilograms, and the concept calls for deployment in batteries of at least three truck-mounted launchers, each carrying 20 interceptors.
Hotzetz will require its own battle management system for command and control, but will be supported by locally developed ground-based radar that exist or are planned for deployment by the end of the decade.
In a December interview, Raviv said he devised his concept during the summer 2006 Lebanon War, when Israel’s reputed technology and military might proved powerless in halting more than 4,000 rockets and missiles launched by Hezbollah during the 34-day conflict. Raviv said the one-size-fits-all approach not only provides an answer to the broad variety of Iranian and Syrian missiles in the Hezbollah arsenal, but to myriad versions of the Palestinian Qassam, more than 2,500 of which have been launched against Israel from the Gaza Strip over the past six years.
With a planned intercept altitude of up to 20 kilometers, Raviv says Hotzetz also can serve as a backup to the Arrow, which is designed to intercept longer-range, nonconventionally equipped ballistic missiles at much higher altitudes near or just beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
Raviv said the Arrow, which has three built-in opportunities to destroy each incoming target and claims a 99.9 percent kill probability, could be challenged if enemy rockets are fitted with advanced decoy systems. The Hotzetz endo-atmospheric interceptor could filter such decoys and provide backup against leakers, he said.
Moreover, at a cost of about $1.5 million per interceptor, Raviv said the Arrow should be reserved for nonconventional threats while the Hotzetz, estimated at about $80,000 apiece, would defend against conventional attacks.
“The Arrow and Hotzetz are complementary. Arrow was developed to protect Israel against long-range missiles tipped with nuclear or other mass destruction warheads. It is not intended to intercept large quantities of missiles carrying conventional warheads,” Raviv said.
As for the shorter-range threats, which are less lethal but still economically, politically and psychologically damaging, Raviv said Hotzetz will determine where the missiles are aimed, and to selectively activate interceptors only against targets destined for populated areas. During the recent war, he noted that only 800 of the more than 4,000 Hezbollah-launched missiles struck populated areas.
According to Raviv’s calculations, the entire country could be protected by eight batteries: four in defense of northern Israel; two for the nation’s central plain; and another two to defend the southern desert region. Total program costs for development, flight testing, acquisition of 2,000 interceptors, 50 launchers and a complete ground system are estimated at $600 million, and Raviv promises a fully operational system within three years.
Acknowledging that his proposed explosive warhead design does not conform with the Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) preference for kinetic-energy, hit-to-kill interceptors, Raviv said, “I’m not offering sex appeal. Nor am I offering expensive and superfluous technology. All I care about is an effective intercept, regardless of whether the threats are coming from very short or exceedingly long ranges.”
Challenging the MoD Bureaucracy
In September, Israel Aircraft Industries Chief Executive Yitzhak Nissan and other corporate managers adopted a slightly modified version of Raviv’s one-size-fits-all concept and began promoting it for at least one, and possibly two, planned MoD missile defense programs.
By early November, the concept was presented to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who directed MoD professionals to give it due consideration. At the time, the ministry was more than a year into development of a Short Range Ballistic Missile Defense (SRBMD) system and was nearing a crucial down-select decision on a second program aimed at defending against so-called ultra-short-range threats.
Nevertheless, in the past seven weeks, Israel Aircraft Industries executives have presented their dark-horse proposal to Shmuel Keren, director of defense research and development; Arieh Herzog, director of the Israel Missile Defense Office; and other MoD technology experts.
And while Raviv remains highly esteemed, MoD officials have expressed irritation at what they consider his and Israel Aircraft Industries’ heavy-handed attempts to circumvent the system with the unsolicited concept.
“[Israel Aircraft Industries] just won’t take no for an answer. They’ve come barging in at the 90th minute with the intent of derailing our carefully laid plans,” an MoD official said.
The official noted Israel Aircraft Industries and Boeing, its U.S. partner, lost the ministry’s SRBMD bid to Rafael Armament Development Authority and Raytheon after an exhaustive competition. Similarly, another Rafael concept was selected over nine other proposals, including that of Israel Aircraft Industries, as the ministry’s tentative solution for its ultra-short-range missile defense (USRMD) program.
Since 2005 the MoD has invested nearly $46 million — including $38 million of U.S. funding — in its so-called David’s Shield SRBMD program, which aims to provide a wide-area defense against rockets, missiles and air-breathing targets fired from ranges of 40 kilometers to 250 kilometers. The entire program is estimated at about $500 million, with each two-stage, reignitable hit-to-kill interceptor expected to cost at least $400,000. An initial deployment date has been set for 2011.
Meanwhile, in November MoD awarded Rafael an initial contract to study the firm’s proposed Iron Cap USRMD against Qassam and other high-trajectory threats ranging from 5 kilometers up to 40 kilometers. Defined as a hard-kill interceptor, the Rafael concept will feature common rocket motors, detection capabilities and command-and-control elements now being developed for the David’s Shield program, company officials here said.
In parallel, the MoD continues to examine two U.S.-developed options: the Northrop Grumman Skyguard, a chemical energy laser designed to destroy a range of artillery rockets, mortars and missiles at the speed of light; and the Lockheed Martin Sky Shield, which uses a conventional rapid-fire cannon to down incoming targets. MoD officials expect to spend no more than two years and $200 million on the USRMD effort.
“We are evaluating Dov Raviv’s proposal, despite the fact that it came to us only recently, after an extensive examination of many options and after a preliminary decision had already been made on this issue,” said MoD spokeswoman Rachel Naidek-Ashkenazi.
Ashkenazi said MoD’s willingness to review the proposal demonstrated the ministry’s commitment to “spare no effort” in determining the most appropriate solution for the short-range missile threat.
New Thinking Urged
But Raviv and other missile defense experts insist two separate missile defense programs — in addition to the Arrow — are unnecessary, and that a one-size-fits-all interceptor could provide a quicker, less-expensive answer to the full basket of threats covered by the SRBMD and USRMD efforts.
“At first, I didn’t think it would work, since bunching defenses against ultra-short range, man-portable rockets together with heavy, long-range rockets seemed counterintuitive. But after careful study, the one-size-fits-all approach offers a cost-effective solution against relatively low-lethality threats from the Qassam through the [100-kilometer-range Iranian] Fajr-5,” said Uzi Rubin, a former director of the Israel Missile Defense Office and international consultant on missile defense issues.
And while Rubin does not share Raviv’s enthusiasm for a super-broad spectrum system capable of intercepting threats up to 1,500 kilometers away, he supports Raviv’s emphasis on low-cost local defenses rather than high-end area defense.
“Short-range defenses must be kept simple and driven by cost per kill rather than probability of kill, since an effective defense will require an ample inventory of interceptors. They should not be miniature versions of theater-wide systems,” Rubin said.
According to Rubin, MoD’s SRBMD program has become saddled with overly ambitious, budget-busting requirements better met through continuous enhancements to the Arrow and other Air Force and Navy programs now in development. He said it’s not too late for MoD to realign its various missile defense programs according to new thinking, in which threats are distinguished not according to range or sophistication, but by their respective lethality.