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By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Israel and a number of other countries are in talks with the United States about buying a new Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) missile defense system even though flight testing is still in its early stages, company executives told Reuters on Tuesday.
"It's pretty unusual to have as much interest as we have this early," said Tom McGrath, a Lockheed Martin vice president who manages the company's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense program, or THAAD.
THAAD is designed to defend troops, population centers and critical facilities against short- to medium-range ballistic missiles of a type that could be fired by Iran or North Korea.
As a planned layer in an emerging multibillion-dollar U.S. anti-missile shield, it is the only weapons system capable of engaging targets within or outside the atmosphere.
Dennis Cavin, another Lockheed vice president, said he expected the Pentagon to notify Congress of possible THAAD sales to Israel and unspecified others by the end of March next year.
Israeli officials have had a number of discussions with Lockheed, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier by sales, and with the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency about THAAD, Cavin said.
"There are other countries that are in very serious discussions with us about THAAD procurements" as well, he said. Cavin said he was confirming Israel as being among the potential buyers because its interest already had been reported, unlike other countries.
McGrath and Cavin made their comments in interviews with Reuters during an annual conference of the Association of the U.S. Army, a supporters' group.
The Israeli Embassy did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. Overseas THAAD sales, if they take place, could be worth billions of dollars to Lockheed Martin.
In December 2006, the company received an initial $619.2 million U.S. contract to start producing the THAAD weapons system. The Missile Defense Agency's contract for the first two THAAD fire units includes 48 interceptors, six launchers and two fire-control and communications units.
((Reporting by Jim Wolf, editing by Tim Dobbyn; e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org; telephone: 202-898-8402, email@example.com)) Keywords: LOCKHEED ISRAEL/USA
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