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Israel eyes missile tests in Turkey

The Israeli defense ministry stated it will be closely following tests the German military is to begin in Turkey next week of Lockheed Martin's Skyshield rocket defense system.

The Skyshield 35 Air Defense System consists of a high-powered rapid-fire cannon that fires a unique 35-milimeter AHEAD (Advanced Hit Efficiency And Destruction) shell to destroy incoming targets. It ejects 152 sub-projectiles that are released just ahead of the incoming target, up to a range of nearly 10 kilometers.

The projectiles are designed to create a cloud ahead of the incoming rocket and penetrate it, inflicting enough damage to prevent it from striking its target. The system was developed by the Oerlikon Contraves Corporation of Switzerland.

Senior officials from Lockheed Martin, including VP for Business Development Bob Trice, were in Israel last week for talks with defense officials about several ongoing projects. The American defense company updated the Defense Ministry about the tests that Germany will be conducting in Turkey, checking the system against mortars, short-range rockets and even Kassams. Last month, The Jerusalem Post reported that the Defense Ministry was looking at rapid-cannon systems as a possible means to defend individual strategic installations from Kassam rockets and mortar shells fired from the Gaza Strip.

While the Skyshield has yet to prove its effectiveness in intercepting and destroying Kassam rockets, if the tests in Turkey are successful, defense officials said that they would look further into the system's capabilities. Initially developed to intercept incoming aircraft, specifically unmanned drones, Lockheed Martin is also testing the system to see if it can intercept Katyusha rockets fired by Hizbullah. The Defense Ministry has also asked Lockheed to check if Skyshield would be effective against Kassam rockets.

According to Lockheed Martin officials, the Skyshield could be operational by 2009, at least a year before the Iron Dome defense anti-Kassam system currently under development by Israel's Rafael (Armaments Development Authority). The officials said that three Skyshield systems, each costing $20 million, would be enough to protect Sderot.

According to officials close to the project, the quality and quantity of explosives inside the shells need to be increased for the system to accurately intercept primitive rockets such as Katyushas and Kassams. The tests in Turkey are expected to be completed in the coming weeks. (The Jerusalem Post)