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Israel won't buy US laser cannons to defend borders

Toxic-waste 'Nautilus' raygun plan dumped again

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Israel's defence ministry has quashed a simmering debate regarding laser-cannon defences for the Israeli border, according to reports.

Pinchas Buchris, a senior Israeli defence official, said yesterday that his ministry had made a firm decision not to buy American raygun technology. He had just returned from a trip to the US, during which he re-evaluated the "Nautilus" beam-weapon gear (aka Sky Guard), offered by wartech titan Northrop Grumman.

Israeli towns such as Sderot, located close to the Gaza border, frequently suffer harrassing rocket bombardments. The unguided "Qassam" weapons* used - built to World War II-vintage designs - are extremely inaccurate and produce relatively few casualties, but do cause serious disruption to local life. The strikes have led to media and legal campaigns in Israel pushing for installation of Northrop's beam-weapon defences to shoot down incoming rockets.

"Were we to order it as is, to protect Sderot, we would create two things," Buchris told Israel's Army Radio.

"First, there would be the illusion, for Sderot residents, that it provides a response. Another thing, we would create a situation where Hamas felt it had scored an achievement in that... we have no way of coping with the Qassams."

The Israeli military first looked at Nautilus/Sky Guard some years ago, and successful shootdowns have been carried out against test rockets. However, the Northrop raygun batteries use chemical laser technology, meaning that they require large amounts of dangerous fuel to operate. They also produce equally-nasty toxic exhaust products, making the weapons even more expensive, hazardous and logistically burdensome to operate.

The Israeli forces seemed to feel at the time that buying hugely expensive chemical rayguns in response to cheap homemade weapons would serve more to magnify the rockets' effect on Israel than to mitigate it. A case of using solid-gold barrels of toxic waste to squash flies, as it were.

The official Israeli plan is instead to introduce a domestically-made system called "Iron Dome". This will use counter-missiles to shoot down the incoming Qassams and Katyushas, and is planned to be in service from 2010. ®

Bootnote

*Almost all the weapons used to bombard Israel from outside its borders are extremely simple unguided rockets developing from 1930s designs such as the old Soviet "Katyusha", often of Iranian manufacture nowadays, whose name is still used. Other terms include the "Qassam", usually referring to even simpler home- or workshop-built jobs from Gaza.

Bombardment rockets have actually been around a lot longer than since the 1930s. The British forces deployed rocket artillery in the early 19th century, cribbing the idea from Indian weapons used against them in earlier wars. Then and now, unguided rockets are inaccurate and many must be fired to produce much effect on a chosen target.

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