Interesting facts about Iron Dome

Iron Dome

The Iron Dome system

While working my way through the Times of Israel’s excellent live blog yesterday, I came upon a couple of interesting mini-articles, buried within the live blog, about the Iron Dome anti-missile system which I felt deserved their own space.

First, the technical specifications:

05:48 

The Associated Press has published a rundown of Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system, which has been second only to the Twitter wars as the most discussed aspect of Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza.

As of Saturday evening, the military said it had shot down some 240 incoming rockets, more than half the number of projectiles launched into Israel since Wednesday.

Here’s a quick look at the system:

- Produced by Israeli-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Iron Dome is meant to shoot down rockets and artillery shells with ranges of up to 70 kilometers, or 45 miles. It has been operational since 2011. Officials say it has a roughly 80 percent success rate.

— How it works: The system detects launches of rockets and quickly determines their flight path. If it is headed toward populated areas or sensitive targets, it fires an interceptor with a special warhead that strikes the incoming rocket within seconds. Rockets headed toward open areas area allowed to land.

— Currently, five Iron Dome batteries are deployed in Israel. Most are located in the south near Gaza. A fifth battery was deployed outside Tel Aviv on Saturday, two months ahead of schedule. Hours later, it shot down a rocket headed toward Tel Aviv.

— Missiles cost around $ 40,000 a piece. In 2010, the US provided $ 200 million to expand development. Additional funding is currently being considered, with $ 70 million already allocated for the 2012 fiscal year.

— The system is part of what Israel calls its “multilayer missile defense.” It is meant to protect against the tens of thousands of short-range rockets possessed by militants in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Israel has also deployed its “Arrow” missile defense systems for long-range threats from Iran. The military says its new “David’s Sling” system, being developed by Rafael to stop medium-range missiles, will be activated by 2014.

And here’s some background to the development of the Iron Dome project:

11:33

While residents of the south remain in or close to safe areas as the rockets rain down, there’s no doubt that the astonishing effectiveness of the Iron Dome anti-missile system has changed the equation. The relative lack of Israeli casualties is predictably working against Israel in much of the international media — “Why are there so few Israeli dead?” runs the unspoken context of some coverage — but we’d rather be alive with poor press than dead with good press. Moreover, the success of Iron Dome is giving the IDF greater room for maneuver — breathing space for the commanders — and more time.

To date, the five Iron Dome batteries — the fifth came into service on Saturday, and not a minute too soon as rockets headed toward Tel Aviv — are intercepting with a remarkable success rate of around 90 percent.

Cheap, it is not. Each interceptor rocket costs some 35,000 dollars. Each new battery costs almost 200 million dollars. Life-savingly effective, it most certainly is. Lately, accuracy has improved to the point where one interceptor is fired, rather than two until recently — exploding in the vicinity of the incoming fire. And technical improvements have also enabled swift decisions on whether an intercept is needed at all based on incoming fire trajectory.

The Times of Israel’s Mitch Ginsburg wrote presciently about the merits of Iron Dome back in March, highlighting former defense minister Amir Peretz’s central role in getting the project operational. Peretz has been the object of immense criticism for his unsuitability in the role as exposed during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. He is now the object of quite a lot of positive media attention, and public gratitude, for getting Iron Dome up and firing.

Amir Peretz (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

As a resident of Sderot, “as someone who raised a family in the city, and as someone who came from the civilian world,” Peretz told Ginsburg in the March article, one of the first questions he grappled with upon taking office  as defense minister was the IDF’s inability to stop the short range rocket fire on southern Israel. “I was told in no uncertain terms that defensive systems were incompatible with the offensive spirit of the IDF,” he said.

“I said that threats to morale were strategic in nature,” Peretz recalled. “Sure, more people might die in a big car accident than in a wave of rocket attacks, but the effects (of death from rocket fire) reach every single house in Israel.”

Fortunately (to put it mildly), the Peretz view prevailed. Read Ginsburg’s piece on “the missile defense system that nobody wanted” here.

Here are some fascinating excerpts from this above link by Ginsburg:

Were it not for Iron Dome, and with over 300 rockets fired from Gaza between Friday and Tuesday, military officials said, Israel might now be deeply embroiled in a ground operation in the Gaza Strip. Alternatively, were it not for Iron Dome, they said, Israel might not have made the decision to blow up Zuhair al-Qaissi in his car in Gaza City on Friday, no matter how great the concern that he was about to orchestrate a major terrorist infiltration from the Sinai.

But the truth of the matter is that for years, the Israel Defense Forces, despite its name, had no interest at all in investing in defensive measures – neither the fortification of towns nor the acquisition or development of anti-rocket defense systems. Only a Supreme Court decision, followed by a grisly war with Hezbollah and finally the determination of a maligned, ridiculed, misfit of a defense minister managed to turn the tide.

[...]

Rocket fire, and the desire to push the PLO guns out of range, was the reason for the Lebanon War in 1982. Rocket fire was the reason for Operations Accountability and Grapes of Wrath against Hezbollah in 1993 and 1996, and though rocket fire did not trigger the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the army’s inability to stop the fire for the duration of the 33-day conflict dictated the course of events. And yet the IDF, Uzi Rubin wrote in a recent paper for the BESA Center, assessing the strategic threat of rockets from Gaza, continually belittled the efficacy of defensive anti-rocket systems.

“The army thinks about war in terms of tanks and planes,” said Rubin, who headed Israel’s missile defense organization within the Defense Ministry for years and was the chief engineer of the Arrow anti-missile system. “Deep down in their hearts they always think it’s not their problem,” he said in a telephone interview, discussing passive and active defensive measures.

After Operation Grapes of Wrath, a 16-day campaign during which 770 rockets fell in northern Israel, the United States began developing a laser-based anti-rocket system called Nautilus. By October 2000, a full year before the first Kassam rocket landed in Sderot, it had passed a field test in New Mexico. Yet the IDF continued to invest in offensive tools like smart bombs, unmanned aerial vehicles and squadrons of gleaming new fighter jets, weapons that could target what air force commander Dan Halutz called “the food chain” of the rockets.

[...]

By the time Amir Peretz came in to office as defense minister in May 2006, the funding for Nautilus had stopped entirely.

As a resident of Sderot, “as someone who raised a family in the city, and as someone who came from the civilian world,” one of the first questions Peretz grappled with upon taking office was the IDF’s inability to stop the short range rocket fire on southern Israel, he said in a recent interview with The Times of Israel.

“I was told in no uncertain terms that defensive systems were incompatible with the offensive spirit of the IDF,” he said.

Both the chief of the General Staff at the time, Halutz, and the director general of the Defense Ministry whom Peretz himself appointed, Gabi Ashkenazi, argued that the rocket fire from Gaza was a tactical weapon, capable of harming morale and inflicting statistical wounds, but not a strategic threat to the state.

“I said that threats to morale were strategic in nature,” Peretz recalled. “Sure, more people might die in a big car accident than in a wave of rocket attacks, but the effects (of death from rocket fire) reach every single house in Israel.”

[...]

In February 2007, with funding for just one year and without the requisite signature of the finance minister necessary for all multi-year projects, Peretz authorized the development of Iron Dome. At a midnight meeting in his office, he said, he reached an agreement with Rafael defense systems officials: They’d “scrape together” $50 million and the Defense Ministry would “scrape together” another $50 million – out of an annual budget of some $15 billion – and production would start immediately. Working at a feverish pace, Yossi Drucker and his team of engineers managed, incredibly, to present the IDF with an operative system that had passed all field tests by May 2010.

During this latest round of violence, Israel’s three Iron Dome batteries attained an unofficial success rate of 90 percent. Most experts believe that the anti-rocket systems managed to stave off a potentially destabilizing and costly ground offensive. Military sources on Sunday described its impact as revolutionary. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent part of Sunday watching it in action, meeting with its operatives, praising their work. And yet, Rubin said, we refuse to learn from history.

“It was the defensive action” – the retreat from Moscow – “that allowed (Russian chief of staff) Kutuzov to defeat Napoleon,” he said. “It was Churchill’s decision to place the defensive anti-aircraft guns within central London during the Blitz that lifted the morale of the public. Yet Israel, he said, “has been shamefully slow” in acquiring the seven or so additional batteries it needs in order to defend the crucial areas of the country.

I must admit I never thought I’d say kol hakavod to Amir Peretz – but I take my proverbial hat off to him and thank him for having had the foresight to promote the development of this invaluable system.

Kol hakavod too to the system’s technical developers both here and in the States.

May the time come speedily when we have no more need of an anti-missile defense. But until such utopian time, thank G-d for Iron Dome.

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3 Responses to Interesting facts about Iron Dome

  1. peteca1 says:

    You can never be sure about the facts released during a war. You know the old saying about the “truth” and war. But if what the IDF says is roughly right – then Iron Dome is 90% successful. That is a very good success rate for such a system. Israelis have a right to be proud of how well it is doing. Furthermore, the latest attacks from Gaza do have the one advantage of giving Iron Dome a very realisitic test of its capabilities. This will surely be a big advantage as Israel prepares for the future.

    The main problem is just the cost. It has apparently cost roughly $30 million for Iron Dome to intercept incoming missiles so far. Of course, if some of those missiles had hit important targets or taken human life – then the cost may well be worth it. But the trouble is that Gaza is bladding Israel dry on a budgetary basis … since it is not costing them this kind of money to fire their simple (innaccurate) rockets. What this probably means is that the IDF will become more selective about when they activate Iron Dome and when they don’t.

    Still overall – it’s a big success. :-)

    Pete, USA

  2. peteca1 says:

    mis-spelling in last paragraph – should have said … “But the trouble is that Gaza is bleeding Israel dry … “

  3. realRightWinger says:

    Peteca1 – There are those in israel who disagree with you – on a financial basis. See this article in hebrew from today’s press “http://www.israelhayom.co.il/site/newsletter_article.php?id=23638&hp=1&newsletter=19.11.2012” – it explains how had the rockets landed, the physical damage + any other costs incurred would be far greater than $40,000 per rocket. For an example – we have seen what rockets can do to various buldings when they only ‘slightly’ hit – if they would land in dense areas, even taking out the cost of human life – the cost to rebuild each building would be more than $40,000 – and the govt would need to foot this bill. Therefore, from an economic point of view – the iron dome system is even saving money….

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