WASHINGTON — As Hamas militants continue to fire rockets from the Gaza Strip, Israel’s defense forces are looking to Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co. to take a leading role in producing more antimissile batteries for the country’s crucial Iron Dome defense system.
The Israeli Ministry of Defense is undertaking a final review of a deal with Raytheon for more antimissile batteries. The company is also working with Israeli defense firms on a separate deal for a next-generation shield designed to strike down long-range missiles that may already be in the hands of Hamas as well as the Hezbollah terrorist group in neighboring Lebanon.
The arrangements underscore the increasing role that Waltham-based company’s technologies are playing the Middle East crisis.
Israel built its existing “Iron Dome” defense system with the help of US funding and expertise. The system has succeeded in shooting down most of the rockets that have threatened populated areas, but concern about the continuing threat has led Israel to enlist Raytheon’s help to expand its missile defenses.
President Obama, in an appearance Wednesday at the White House, highlighted the US contribution to the Iron Dome system, saying, “Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people.”
“There is no country on Earth that can be expected to live under a daily barrage of rockets. And I’m proud that the Iron Dome system that Americans helped Israel develop and fund has saved many Israeli lives,’’ Obama said.
Israel had hoped that its success in shooting down many incoming rockets would convince Hamas to stop its attacks. But Hamas, along with other Palestinian militant groups, rejected a cease-fire proposal earlier this week by Egypt, and Israeli airstrikes on suspected militants and weapons supplies continued Wednesday amid reports that Israel might launch a ground invasion.
‘Over the last dozen years Raytheon has emerged as dominant player in missile defense.’
However the current standoff unfolds, Israel has placed extraordinary reliance on missile-defense technologies to defend itself and thus is pushing forward with a stronger relationship with Raytheon, which has a long history of designing and building missile defense systems for the Unites States and its allies.
For Raytheon, the Israeli contracts — part of a “coproduction” deal with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems — present a potential financial windfall. Much of the work would be done at Raytheon’s Tucson, Ariz., missile systems plant, as well by subcontractors across the country, officials said.
Raytheon’s contracts with Israel would indirectly help the US economy recoup some of the nearly $1 billion in US aid that enabled Israeli designers to develop the Iron Dome system in recent years. The Obama administration requested $175 million for Israel’s Iron Dome in the 2015 budget, and that amount has been doubled by congressional defense committees. The House measure required that much of that money be spent on US components, which is likely to be beneficial to Raytheon.
Until now, Israel and its defense industry has overseen the manufacturing of the Iron Dome system.
“Israel would like to build as much of Iron Dome as it can, but Raytheon’s expertise in missile defense is greater,” said Loren Thompson, a Washington-based defense consultant who advises some of Raytheon’s competitors. “Raytheon is a key partner in every missile defense system the United States is building. The company’s participation also generates jobs in America as a result of US aid to Israel. So it is beneficial beyond the defense aspect.”
Raytheon declined to officially comment on the pending deal, referring questions to Rafael, the Israeli company, which also declined to comment.
But a Raytheon official who was not authorized to speak publicly said: “It is going to happen. It is a matter of time. I think what is being held up is a ministerial decision out of Israel.”
Separately, the United States and the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar on Monday signed an $11 billion deal — set to be the largest of the year — that Raytheon will share with defense giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin. It includes a series of the company’s missile defense technologies such as the Patriot that are designed to deflect longer-range missiles.
In Israel, the Defense Ministry is relying on eight antimissile batteries to defend the country but says it needs more — up to 15 on alert at all time. As a result, it is preparing to finalize the arrangement so that Rafael, the prime contractor, can begin placing orders with Raytheon for additional batteries, according to US and Israeli officials and analysts.
The Iron Dome system, which relies on an interceptor missile known the Tamir — about 6 inches wide and 10 feet long — has a selective targeting system that tries to deflect only those rockets that are predicted to be on a trajectory that will threaten populated areas. To conserve the Tamir missiles, which are estimated to cost nearly $100,000 apiece, it does not try to intercept rockets that are calculated to be headed toward unpopulated areas.
Since the conflict began July 8, an estimated 990 rockets have been fired into Israel, including 244 that have been shot down, according to official Israeli statistics. Israeli military operations in Gaza have led to an estimated 205 deaths. One Israeli civilian casualty has been reported as a result of a mortar attack.
Still, there have been some questions in recent days about the system’s effectiveness.
A July 10 article in the MIT Technology Review asserted that while the Hamas rockets are being intercepted by Iron Dome, the system is not detonating the actual warheads as designed, meaning they fall to the ground with the explosives still intact.
The United States has allocated nearly $1 billion to the development and purchase of Iron Dome batteries for Israel, but Congress has recently expressed concern that more of those funds were not being spent on US components.
“Given the significant US taxpayer investment in the system, the committee believes that coproduction of parts and components should be done in a manner that will maximize US industry participation,” the House Armed Services Committee wrote in a May report after it added $175 million to the US investment in Iron Dome.
The outlines of the expected arrangement with Raytheon were first described in an April report by the US Missile Defense Agency.
“Under this agreement, the United States focus shifts toward maximizing economic activity in the United States while ensuring that Israel’s security needs are met,” according to the report, first noted by Bloomberg News. “This new agreement strikes a better balance for both parties and should serve as a model for the future.”
Raytheon is also planning later this year to conduct a third test of the so-called Stunner missile, the main component of a more advanced antimissile system that the Israelis are developing called David’s Sling. Two previous tests conducted in Israel in 2012 and 2013 were deemed successful in intercepting more advanced rockets with longer ranges than the militants’ current arsenal. Some of its technology has been included in the eighth Iron Dome battery to be put into service near Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, according to Israeli press reports.
At this stage, said Thompson, a growing role for Raytheon in defending the Israel is a natural step, noting its experience building a series of land-based and ship-based antimissile systems in recent years.
“Over the last dozen years Raytheon has emerged as dominant player in missile defense,” Thompson said. “It makes most of the missiles, most of the radars, and integrates most of the networks.”