TEL AVIV (Jun. 29)
Israel’s experimental Arrow missile defense system faced its potentially most crucial test this week, as a team from the General Accounting Office of the U.S. Congress arrived for a 10-day technical and financial audit.
The anti-missile missile, known in Hebrew as the Hetz, is being developed by Israel Aircraft Industries but largely financed by the United States.
The visit was planned several months ago, at the request of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It comes after the failures of three successive test launches.
But U.S. Embassy spokesman Carl Chan downplayed the critical nature of the inspection, saying the visit reflects strong congressional interest in the Arrow project.
The United States is committed to financing the first two phases of the project, approximately $358 million of a total of $480 million.
But the future of the Hetz is not all clear sailing.
The Americans are developing a system of their own, to be part of the overall Strategic Defense Initiative, referred to as Star Wars. If successful, the United States is likely to withdraw its participation in Israel’s Arrow project.
Already, the Israelis and Americans seem at odds over the research and development timetable. The Americans anticipate further tests this summer, while the Israelis say they will not occur before winter.
In any case, the Arrow project is still well shy of actually intercepting an incoming missile.
The project is scheduled for completion by mid-1995, with possible deployment by 1996.
Senior military sources here say that Israel may even cancel the project voluntarily, following the inauguration of a new Israeli defense minister to replace outgoing Moshe Arens, one of the Arrow’s most enthusiastic backers.
But offsetting any pessimism in IAI circles about the Arrow’s future is the confidence expressed last week by IAI spokespersons that the state-owned aerospace company believes it has won a contract to build a new pilotless aircraft for the U.S. Army and Marines.
The IAI bid won out over a competitive bid submitted by the U.S. McDonnell Douglas Corp.