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JERUSALEM, May 21 (Reuters) - Israel's U.S.-backed David Sling missile shield is unlikely to be deployed by next year as originally scheduled, an Israeli defence official said on Wednesday, citing budget shortfalls.
David's Sling, which is designed to shoot down various aerial threats using interceptor missiles manufactured by U.S. firm Raytheon Co., is billed by Israel as a future bulwark against foes like Lebanon's Hezbollah and Syria and Iran.
But with the Finance Ministry trying to reduce the defence budget, the government said it had frozen funding for David's Sling manufacturer, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.
As a result, a senior defence official told reporters, "David's Sling, which was supposed to be operational in 2015, will probably not be operational."
While U.S. congressional funding for Israeli missile defence was still flowing and allowing work on the system's development, "we don't have the money here to pay for infrastructure", the official added, referring to deployable David's Sling batteries.
Israel is building a multi-tier missile shield. The lowest tier, short-range rocket interceptor Iron Dome, and the top tier, ballistic missile interceptor Arrow, are both already in service. David's Sling is envisaged as bridging between the two.
Major-General Amir Eshel, chief of Israel's air force, sought to play down the hold-ups in David's Sling deployment.
"It is an excellent system which will be operational," he told Reuters on the sidelines of a security conference. Asked when that might be, Eshel said: "I don't remember."
Though both Israeli and U.S. officers have praised David's Sling's performance in field tests, the system lost out on a Polish missile-defence tender. Washington, backing two competing U.S. systems, exercised an effective veto on its ally's bid due the involvement of U.S. technologies in David's Sling. (Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)