The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency for the first time in its regular annual budget contains funds to buy additional Iron Dome missile defense systems for Israel, according to documents and an agency spokesman.
The budget requests $220 million for missile batteries in fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1, and an additional $175.9 million in fiscal 2015, according to budget documents the Missile Defense Agency posted online last week.
The money, if approved during the annual defense budget process, would be on top of $486 million the White House and Congress have requested or added for the system in recent years after formal budgets were submitted. This includes $211 million added in the defense appropriations bill for this year, which President Barack Obama signed into law last month.
The $220 million request for fiscal 2014 “is new money, and it is the first time funding specifically for Iron Dome procurement has been requested in our budget submission,” Missile Defense Agency spokesman Richard Lehner said in an e-mail.
House and Senate defense committees last year signaled they wanted to approve spending as much as $680 million on Iron Dome through 2015.
The fiscal 2014 request “is a smaller piece of the larger amount and supports the various production lines and schedules to meet the desired goals,” Lehner said.
The U.S. and Israel in October conducted their biggest joint air and missile defense exercise amid rising tensions with Iran. The “Austere Challenge 12” exercise involved as many as 3,500 U.S. personnel in the region along with 1,000 members of the Israel Defense Forces.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today at a U.S. House hearing that he plans within “a few days” to visit Israel.
“Our interests are very clear and common,” Hagel said. “I think the Israelis know that.”
Israeli and U.S. officials last year said the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted about 400 rockets fired at Israel, or about 85 percent of those targeted by its radar and battle-management system as heading toward populated areas, during eight days of bloodshed between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip.
Iron Dome, made in Israel by Haifa-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., is designed to intercept and destroy rockets capable of flying as far as 70 kilometers (44 miles). Israel has fielded its first five batteries of launchers and interceptors costing as much as $90,000 apiece, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
Then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak last year praised the U.S. for the prior investments that allowed Israel’s military to more quickly deploy the initial batteries in southern Israel.
In addition to the new Iron Dome funding, the Missile Defense Agency requested $95.7 million to bankroll three other systems under the general category of Israeli Cooperative Programs, about $4 million less than this year’s request.
The missile defense agency projects it will request $510 million for these three systems through 2018
The category includes money for improvements to the existing Arrow program and new Arrow 3, intended to intercept long- and medium-range ballistic missiles such as those possessed by Iran, and a shorter range new system called David’s Sling, designed to intercept rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah.
The fiscal 2014 request includes money for Arrow 3 to continue development testing, conduct a second intercept flight and prepare the weapon to start initial production, according to agency documents. Chicago-based Boeing Co. and Tel Aviv-based Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. are developing the Arrow 3 interceptor.
Enhancements to the existing Arrow program funded in the fiscal 2014 request include integrating a “long-range detection suite” of sensors designed to detect the flight of unmanned aerial drones into Israeli territory, according to the budget documents.
The Arrow “Weapon Systems Improvement” also funds the integration of data links that allow Israeli missile defense units to integrate with U.S. weapons in the region.