The most-recent addition to Israel’s missile defense system is the Iron Dome. It was designed and developed jointly by the United States and Israel as a response to the threats Israel faces from short and medium-range rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza. It has also been deployed to intercept rockets fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon.
The system has the capability to identify and destroy such projectiles before they land in Israeli territory and is now one of the most effective anti-missile systems in the world. The system is comprised of three components: the design and tracking radar built by the Elta defense company; the battle management and weapon control system designed by the mPrest Systems software company; and the missile firing unit manufactured by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.
IDF Soldiers man an Iron Dome battery
Iron Dome’s rockets, which cost $20,000 each, are fired from a team-operated battery, act in conjunction with battery-deployed radar-guided early warning systems. The Iron Dome relies upon a high-resolution EL/M-2084 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar to detect and track incoming projectiles. If the rocket is targeting a populated area, it is intercepted. Each Iron Dome battery has an effective range of approximately 90 miles.
According to Sebastien Roblin, the Tamir interceptor travels at “2.5 times the speed of sound, guided by the ground-based radar. However, as the three-meter-long missiles close with the targeted projectile, their nose-mounted electro-optical sensor takes over to provide more precise terminal guidance. A proximity fuse detonates the missile’s thirty-five-pound fragmentation warhead once it enters range.”
Iron Dome joins Israel’s comprehensive missile defense network which includes the David’s Sling system, intended to protect against mid-range missiles, and the Arrow Interceptor system, designed to provide defense against long-range missiles.
Between 2008 and 2010, the Iron Dome system underwent a number of comprehensive tests and was declared operational in March 2011. On April 7, 2011, the system successfully intercepted its first projectile, a rocket fired from Gaza towards Israel. Immediately afterward, IAF aircraft targeted a rocket-launching terrorist cell. The following day, the system successfully intercepted three rockets fired from Gaza towards Israel.
During the middle of March 2012, when terrorists in Gaza went on a rocket offensive against southern Israel firing nearly 200 rockets in less than 72 hours, the Iron Dome system successfully shot down no fewer than 52 rockets aimed at Beersheva, Ashdod, and Ashkelon.
Since 2011, Iron Dome has intercepted more than 2,500 enemy rockets, more than 90% of those fired at Israel.
In May 2012, President Obama directed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to allocate an additional $70 million to pay for more Iron Dome batteries and interceptor missiles.
In November 2012, a wave of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel precipitated the IDF to embark on Operation Pillar of Defense to destroy the terror group’s rocket launching capability. Over the course of the operation, Hamas launched more than 1,500 rockets toward Israel – including Qassam, GRAD, and Fajr rockets – and Israel used the Iron Dome to successfully intercept more than 420 incoming projectiles. Iron Dome also intercepted missiles over the skies of Jaffa and Tel Aviv for the first time in Israeli history.
During Operation Protective Edge (July 8, 2014 - August 26, 2014), Iron Dome shot down 90 percent of the rockets fired from Gaza. Between July 7 and July 10 alone, Iron Dome intercepted approximately 100 rockets. On July 12, 2014, Israel deployed its seventh Iron Dome battery, and within a week the system had intercepted five Gaza-based rockets targeting Tel Aviv.
Israel introduced a new maritime missile interception system in 2017. Using an altered Iron Dome missile battery, the Tamir Adir system demonstrated its ability to strike airborne targets with accuracy from a moving platform. Developed over several years, the new system will help the Israeli military protect strategic maritime assets such as oil rigs.
In 2014, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the U.S. government had initially invested $900 million in Iron Dome production and, after seeing its performance, Congress proposed an additional $235 million for its continued development.
In 2014, Massachusetts-based Raytheon was awarded a contract from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd worth $149 million to manufacture the anti-missile rocket (Tamir) used in the Iron Dome.
The fiscal year 2015 Defense Authorization Bill authorized the allocation of $351 million for Iron Dome. Congress later added an additional $619 million for production of the Iron Dome. The legislation stipulated that 55% of the new components for the Iron Dome be manufactured within the United States by Raytheon.
The U.S. government’s spending bill passed in March 2018 included a record-high $705 million in funding earmarked for Israel’s missile defense systems, including up to $92 million for Tamir interceptors.
As of April 2018, the United States had provided $1.397 billion to Israel for Iron Dome batteries, interceptors, coproduction costs, and general maintenance.
As of early 2019, Israel had ten batteries deployed, with five more planned.
In January 2019, the U.S. Army was expected to request funding from Congress to procure two Iron Dome batteries. The $373 million deal would include 240 Tamir interceptor missiles, twelve launchers, and two radars and command trailers.
In less than 48 hours May 4-6, 2019, Hamas and PIJ launched 690 rockets toward Israel, 240 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome. Most landed in open territory and caused no injuries, another 21 hit homes.
The terrorists hoped to overwhelm the system with a large, sustained barrage. For example, between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on May 5, 2019, 117 rockets were fired toward Ashdod; only one rocket struck the city, killing a man running for shelter.
Since its first deployment in April 2011 outside Beersheba, the Iron Dome has intercepted more than 2,400 incoming projectiles – roughly 85% – saving Israeli lives and protecting property and other assets.
In August 2020, Raytheon Technologies and Israeli-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems announced a joint venture to build the Iron Dome in the United States under the name Raytheon Rafael Area Protection Systems. A facility will be built to produce the Iron Dome, the Tamir interceptor and launcher, and the SkyHunter missile (the U.S. version of Tamir).
“This will be the first Iron Dome all-up-round facility outside of Israel, and it will help the U.S. Department of Defense and allies across the globe obtain the system for defense of their service members and critical infrastructure,” according to Sam Deneke, vice president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense’s land warfare and air defense business.
In September 2020, Israel delivered the first of two Iron Dome batteries to the U.S. Army. In March, the Army canceled plans to purchase more of the batteries because of difficulties integrating them into its existing air defense systems. Concerns remain, but apparently the Army changed its mind and was scheduled to receive an additional battery from Israel in January 2021. The key to long-term acceptance is whether Iron Dome can be configured to work with the new Integrated Air & Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS).
In 2021, Israel agreed to allow the United States to deploy Iron Dome batteries in unspecified Gulf states.
In March 2021, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced it had upgraded the Iron Dome system so it can now intercept of rocket and missile salvos as well as multiple drones.
On May 10, 2021, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas began launching hundreds of rockets into Israel. Terrorists fired 4,350 rockets at Israel from Gaza. The salvos decreased in intensity as Israel ramped up its air raids in Operation Guardian of the Walls; nevertheless, the number of rockets launched simultaneously was unprecedented and apparently designed to overwhelm the Iron Dome. The terror groups believe they have exposed vulnerabilities in the missile defense system by firing dozens of rockets from multiple directions. Iron Dome, however, has the capacity to launch some 800 interceptors at a given time, making it hard for Hamas to overwhelm the system, and the IDF reported that more than 1,400 incoming rockets, 90 percent, were intercepted.
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Israel Defense Forces.
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Photo courtesy of the IDF Spokesperson.