JERUSALEM A more powerful version of the interceptor system that Israel said downed 90 percent of rockets fired by Gaza militants before a ceasefire last week should be ready for deployment within three years, an aerospace official said on Monday.
He said Israel would need only one or two batteries of the "David's Sling" system, touted as its answer to the longer-range missiles of Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and Syria, after word on Sunday that it has passed its first live trial.
Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired brigadier-general who formerly designed strategic weapon systems for the Defence Ministry and now heads the Israel Space Agency, said in a radio interview that David's Sling was intended to shoot down rockets with ranges of between 100 km and 200 km (63 miles and 125 miles).
The new system would link between the Iron Dome system that countered short-range rockets from Gaza and the Arrow ballistic missile interceptor, also already deployed, to form a multi-level shield that Israel is pursuing with U.S. help to fend off threats from Iran and its allies on the Jewish state's borders.
"With a system like David's Sling, you can see a missile coming from a long way away, before it strikes," Ben-Israel told Army Radio. "You can make do with one national battery, perhaps two." Asked when David's Sling would be ready for deployment, he said: "Two or three years from today, I reckon."
Also known as Magic Wand, David's Sling is being jointly developed by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd and U.S. firm Raytheon Co.
Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, called the David's Sling test "another milestone in missile defence cooperation" between the countries.
Israel has deployed five out of a projected total of 13 Iron Dome units. During eight days of Gaza clashes this month, Iron Dome had a 90 percent success rate, intercepting 421 rockets launched from the Palestinian enclave, Israeli officials said.
Iron Dome has had setbacks, however, in countering short-range mortar fire from Gaza. Ben-Israel said work was under way on another new system that would block such attacks with lasers.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)