Battleland

Iron Dome: A Missile Shield That Works

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MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

An Israeli missile is launched from the Iron Dome missile system in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva in response to a rocket launch from the nearby Palestinian Gaza Strip, Nov. 15, 2012.

Military gear-heads like to boast about how this or that latest technology that they’re fond of – or that their company, or country, is pushing – is a “game-changer.”

The major-combat debut of Israel‘s Iron Dome missile-defense shield over the past several days may be one of the few that can legitimately make that claim.

It is destroying about 90% of the rockets and missiles that Hamas, the Palestinian political party governing Gaza, is firing into southern Israel, Israeli officials say.

One battery of Iron Dome anti-missile missiles downed 100% during a salvo, a senior Israeli official tells Battleland.

“We’ve got about a 90% success rate,” he says, proudly giddy. “This is unprecedented in history.” It’s also impossible to confirm, but the lack of Israeli casualties suggests Iron Dome is the most-effective, most-tested missile shield the world has ever seen.

(PHOTOS: A New Gaza War: Israel and Palestinian Militants Trade Fire)

“We keep tweaking it,” says the senior official, who declined to be identified. “In one of the recent exchanges, one of the batteries was 100% [successful]. That means, to me, that Iron Dome is capable of 100% [across the board] — I don’t think it was entirely a fluke.” He said he didn’t know how many missiles and interceptors were involved in the salvo; an Iron Dome battery typically consists of a radar unit and three launchers, each outfitted with 20 Tamir interceptor missiles.

The bottom line: the more rockets Hamas fires, it seems, the better at stopping them Iron Dome becomes.

They’re playing a game of aerial attrition: who will run out of missiles first?

The missile shield’s success came as Israel broadened its attacks on Hamas-related sites in Gaza over the weekend, launching air strikes against political sites – including the headquarters of the Hamas prime minister – as well as military targets.

“There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” President Obama said Sunday in Thailand, his first destination on a three-stop, three-day tour of southeast Asia. “So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.”

Iron Dome impressed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in August during a tour of a battery while he was in Israel. “Iron Dome has had a better than 80% success rate at hitting rockets fired from Gaza into Israeli population centers, and it has successfully intercepted more than 100 rockets,” he said shortly after he returned. “We can be proud of this system’s record of saving lives and preventing wider conflict in that region.”

(MORE: The Israeli Assault on Gaza: How Surgical is Surgical?)

As of Sunday, Hamas had fired close to 1,000 missiles and rockets into Israel. Iron Dome decided — by tracing their trajectory and likely impact points within seconds of launch — that about two-thirds didn’t pose a threat and let them fall harmlessly to Earth. It destroyed about 90% of the remaining 300 or so that threatened to land in populated areas, Israeli officials said.

Consider for a moment what a game-changer such a capability represents:

– Shielded under Iron Dome, the Israeli government can take the time it feels its need to plan its response because it is not under the pressure that hundreds of explosions potentially killing hundreds of Israelis would generate. “The best, from our perspective, is that it gives us time,” the senior official says. “If we were being hit by this amount of rockets without Iron Dome, we would have to resort to other means” – including a ground invasion, which he still fears may happen. That could kill “thousands” of civilians, he says, as the Israeli military cleared Gaza of missiles and missile factories.

– It saves lives.

– It saves infrastructure, including dwellings, buildings, utilities and roads.

– There is perversely, a downside to its success: it frustrates the enemy. “It denies what Hamas can claim as a victory, so it can prolong it,” he says of the aerial assault. “One can conceive of a situation where Hamas can say, `Look, we struck Tel Aviv, we struck Jerusalem – let’s have a victory parade and call it a war.’ They haven’t been able to do that.”

The senior Israeli official says the system’s battle management software is sensitive enough to monitor the trajectory of incoming missiles. “It distinguishes whether it is going to hit downtown or an open field,” he says. “If it’s going to hit an open field we don’t shoot at it.”

That’s important because the interceptors cost up to $100,000 each. That’s pocket change – heck, pocket lint – to the U.S. military, but relatively costly to the Israeli government, especially compared to the incoming rockets, which “are basically free” to Hamas, the official says (they can cost less than $1,000).

(MORE: Psychological Warfare with Missiles: Why Tel Aviv Matters)

Iron Dome “is actually a money-saver,” he adds. “Think if these rockets actually hit a neighborhood, in terms of the human costs, the wounded, the destruction of infrastructure would be much greater. So $100,000 is not that much to pay for a house that’s full of kids.”

Iron Dome was developed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., and is expected to cost close to $1 billion by the time up to 15 batteries are bought (five are now deployed in southern Israel). The U.S. has pledged about $300 million to help fund the effort. Israel decided to build the system after the 2006 Second Lebanon War, when 4,000 Hezbollah rockets rained down on northern Israel, killing 44.

Iron Dome is designed to counter short-range missiles with a range of 70 kilometers or less – about 45 miles. Its prey includes crude Katyusha and Qassam rockets and Soviet-designed but built-in-Gaza Grads, with a range of up to 25 miles. The mobile system saw its first real-world test in April 2011, when it downed a Gaza-fired Grad in April 2011. Hamas said it had launched an Iranian-made Fajr-5 missile, with a range of up to 45 miles, toward Tel Aviv this past weekend, but Israel said they shot it down, too.

As of Monday, 91 Palestinians had died in the Israeli counter-attacks, with 700 wounded, according to Palestinian officials.

“We have had casualties,” the senior Israeli official concedes, including three killed and 68 wounded. “But the casualties we have had – the three killed – was not because of Iron Dome, but because the people didn’t listen to the siren – they thought they were out of range.”

The hype continues. But in this case, for a change, it might be warranted.

MORE: Has Israel’s Assault on Gaza Made Tel Aviv Vulnerable?

38 comments
aaronrl
aaronrl

Time's columnist on military issues doesn't know the difference between a rocket and a missile? Seriously?

mdevoe77
mdevoe77

“We’ve got about a 90% success rate,” he says, proudly giddy. “This is unprecedented in history.” It’s also impossible to confirm, but the lack of Israeli casualties suggests Iron Dome is the most-effective, most-tested missile shield the world has ever seen.

I am reminded of the line "Survey's show that 60% of the time it works every time..."  

TiAbdel
TiAbdel

I can't see how Israel is winning? it cost  hamass no more than $800 to fire al qassam rocket and for Israel to respond by either destroying it or not  still cost $50.000 so if Hamass sent 1000 rocket that is $800.000 and Israel loss is $35.000.000 and no garantee that all will be downed. The best solution to this mouse-cat game is to give back the stolen land to Palestine and sign a peace accord that is just to israel and just to the Palestinians. Israel will never  win. because the  occupiors never win. check the history for all those who used to rule the world. So far the whole world know Israel is the agressor except Israel and the USA with few hypocryts who are neither here or there

noworries
noworries

  @TiAbdel  keep preaching that to yourself, there are plenty of places around the world that is still occupied by someone else, like the United States of America, it was native American land, tried to make piece with them but it didn't work, so we exterminated the ones that didn't want to follow rules, same thing will happen with the

helenmou
helenmou

Yeah, well it seems to me that the Palestinians are paying the price for the Nazis' treatment of the Jews in the II World War. It's not their fault that the allies decided to give the Jews Israel as a guilt trip! But for the Jews to expect us to feel sympathy for their treatment by the Nazis is rich considering what they are doing to the Gaza strip! These people have utterly no freedom at all. I would choose a leader who promised to destroy Iisrael if I had them on my back door. Why not treat them properly and give them statehood? They have an absolute right to live there too especailly as they were there first! It's the fact that the Israelis are continuing to build houses on occupied land that get up my nose.

ojosazul66
ojosazul66

@helenmou I think you need a serious history lesson, youre so brainwashed by this occupied land spin thats sold by the Arabs. Jordan is Palestine. There has never been a sovereign nation called palestine, jews were palestinians prior to 1948! Funny that Zahir Muhsein of the Palestinian National Council in 1977 told the Dutch paper Trouw “The Palestinian people does not exist. … Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people…to oppose Zionism.”Jews were living in the holy land before islam even existed. Its only because the Muslim armies conquered the land and occupied it that arabs have a foothold there. 

 Read some factual history below:In 985 c.e. the Arab writer Muqaddasi complained that in Jerusalem the large majority of the population were Jewish, and said that "the mosque is empty of worshippers..." .·Ibn Khaldun, one of the most creditable Arab historians, in 1377 c.e. wrote:"Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel extended over 1400 years... It was the Jews who implanted the culture and customs of the permanent settlement".After 300 years of Arab rule in the Holy Land, Ibn Khaldun attested that Jewish culture and traditions were still dominant. By that time there was still no evidence of "Palestinian" roots or culture .·The historian James Parker wrote: "During the first century after the Arab conquest [670-740 c.e.], the caliph and governors of Syria and the [Holy] Land ruled entirely over Christian and Jewish subjects. Apart from the Bedouin in the earliest days, the only Arabs west of the Jordan were the garrisons".Even though the Arabs ruled the Land from 640 c.e. to 1099 c.e., they never became the majority of the population. Most of the inhabitants were Christians (Assyrian and Armenian) and Jews.

dsepocn
dsepocn like.author.displayName 1 Like

@helenmou If you would trouble to read, or ask Hamas, you will learn that Hamas' goal is not to get a state, but to completely remove Israel. This is their whole point. You might feel this is a just goal -- easy enough to debate you on that -- but no sense denying the fact that they themselves readily admit. The conflict persists on and on, because Hamas' goal is to remove Israel, and there's pretty much nothing more for Israel to say or do in the face of that, except fight.

IanBortner
IanBortner like.author.displayName 1 Like

@dsepocn @helenmou Actually Israel wants Hamas to stay in power.  This is why they fight wars every few years but neither side "wins."  Hamas could have been removed from power in 2008, but if Israel allowed the Palestinians to de-radicalize then the odds of the Palestinians gaining true statehood are much higher.  It is not unheard of for powerful nations to radicalize their domestic enemies in order to marginalize them. 

helenmou
helenmou like.author.displayName 1 Like

Can anyone explain how the Israelis are any different to the Nazis in their hostile treatment of the Palestinians as the Palestinians are only trying to make a point that the Israelis are stealing their land!!!??? The Nazis exterminated the Jews with total impunity as the world idly watched; the world now idly watches the Palestinians being hammered by the Israelis. I, for one, have totally lost all sympathy for the Israelis. Let them stick to the land that was given to them and not go in to the land rightfully owned by the Palestinians. They are total bullies.

TiAbdel
TiAbdel

@helenmou Israel is a cancer to the true Jews. zionism is a racisr entiuty that favour Jews over Gentiles. they are teaching kids evil actions. We had a stupid Israeli working with us and out of the blue she started  to show how she used Palestinians kids  to shoot at for fun forgrtting that we are in Britian a country of law and order not backdoor nazit israel ,when she was reported to Management she claimed that was daily training and she could not see what was the problem. these kind of evil mentality is what the terrorists leaders of Israel are teaching people. after all criminals have no morals or feelings

ojosazul66
ojosazul66

@TiAbdel @helenmou  Spread your ridiculous anti israel propaganda!!! Of course Britain has no track record in brutality in history,,,, have you been to Israel. No Youre too ignorant, So many people of numerous nationalities and religions are there and love it, only bigots like you spread rhetoric

itsa341
itsa341

@helenmou Oh, and also remember the people in Gaza chose to elect Hamas terrorists as their new government. This was their vote and their choice when they elected a terrorist group who was sworn enemies of Israel calling for the destruction of Israel.

itsa341
itsa341

@helenmou In WW2 the Jewish people weren't launching rockets into Germany and then crying like babies when Germany shot back.

Hamas chooses where to hide the weapons caches, where to launch rockets from and where to locate command and control centers. If those facilities get hit and blow up it is their fault that women and children are injured as by choosing those locations they also choose where Israel will have to hit. You cannot blame Israel for either defending it's people by firing back or for the fact that Hamas cowardly hid missile launchers, weapons caches and command centers among civilians.

IanBortner
IanBortner

@itsa341 The Jews have Gaza under siege, which is an act of war.  If America was under siege we would be attacking the blockaders just like the Gazans do. 

itsa341
itsa341

@IanBortner @itsa341 No, you are misusing the term "under siege". If Israel had them under siege for this length of time there would be nobody left alive in Gaza. Preventing them from getting weapons and materials to build bunkers or weapons does not qualify as "under siege" . "Under siege" implies they are preventing them from getting medical help, food, clothing, and other necessities for daily life leaving them to starve and die. Your exaggeration of the facts leaves me to believe you are refusing to look at this situation from an objective point of view and avoiding honesty.

namtor
namtor

As for the cost, consider this: to stop a 1$ bullet you need to wear 1000$+ bullet proof vest. The price of the vest is justified not because of the price of the bullet but because the damage it can do. You don't hear anyone saying bullet proof vests are a bad idea because they cost x1000 times more then the bullets they stop. the simple truth is that the expensive weapons used by western countries today cost hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the precision guidance elements they use. but if all you want to do is shoot hunks of metal full of high explosives indiscriminately at people you can do that dirt cheap.

IanBortner
IanBortner

@namtor Totally different context.  The weapons system to deliver that bullet is usually a gun that costs several hundred dollars.  If the bullet proof vest was 100,000 dollars for a single use your comparison might make sense. The problem with defense systems like Iron Dome is that they are so specialized and expensive, everything body armor isn't.  Body armor is useful for all kinds of things and protects against more than one type of threat.  There is not one shred of evidence to suggest that Iron Dome could shoot down a modern guided missile or do anything whatsoever besides shooting down 1940s level unguided rockets.  There is no evidence that Iron Dome could counter possible counter measures against it. 

marauder2048
marauder2048

First, this isn't a missile shield; it's a rocket, artillery and mortar (RAM) shield. PATRIOT is in a completely different class since it defends against ballistic missiles, aircraft and cruise missiles and wouldn't be used against RAM threats that "only" carry a max 200 lb warhead.And the simple counter to the proposed counter-measures is to use Infra-Red Search (or Forward Looking Infra-Red) to Track 

and detect and LIDAR to distinguish between the real targets and the decoys. In fact, this technique is already in use on the US C-RAM Centurion which uses 20mm, self destructing cannon shells to destroy the same type of threat the Israelis are facing.http://gizmodo.com/5907237/the-c+ram-centurion-tears-up-warheads-with-a-stream-of-hot-lead

Centurion is much cheaper than Iron Dome per intercept; The Israelis seriously considered Centurion but didn't like the fact that it spews out hundreds or thousands of cannon shells per engagement which even when they self-destruct scatter high velocity fragments that can injure or kill people who are not wearing body armor and helmets and who happen to be in the area near where the incoming RAMs are intercepted.

That disadvantage was not a problem for the US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since they wear helmets and body armor but it is a problem for Israeli civilians who may not be wearing or may not have access to such gear.

IanBortner
IanBortner

@marauder2048 Still seems to me like a ridiculously expensive system.  How much does a mortar or katyusha cost compared to these systems?  Wouldn't it be more cost effective and better long term to invest in R&D for offensive weapons?  While we're stuck figuring out how to shoot down 1940s level missile technology our rivals are catching up in conventional weaponry.  Iron Dome will go down in history as the next Maginot Line if Israel puts all their faith into it. 

marauder2048
marauder2048

@IanBortner @marauder2048 

My impression is that Israel reasons that a cheap, WWII-era tech level rocket with a 200 lb warhead capable of destroying a home and killing a family of four is worth intercepting with a slightly pricey guided missile interceptor. 

On the offensive side, both the US and Israel have dramatically closed the sense-target-shoot cycle for counter-battery fire to a matter of just a few minutes from detection of the initial launch signature of the rocket to the destruction of the launcher and the personnel. 

We're not stuck on how to shoot them down. Both Centurion and now Iron Dome have intercepted hundreds if not thousands of rockets, artillery shells and mortars. But both the US and Israel are working on ways to intercept such targets at lower cost and with less collateral damage. The current system under development is a 50mm self-guided cannon shell that's cheaper than both but does less collateral damage than either. 

IanBortner
IanBortner

@marauder2048 @IanBortner I meant "all or nothing" in the sense that they are defensive systems designed to either work spectacularly or fail miserably, there is no middle ground.  The Maginot Line was intended to keep the Germans from being able to step foot in France, just like Iron Dome is designed not to let one single rocket drop on Israel.  If the French built the line to allow their tanks time to counter-attack it would have been much more dispersed and deeper within France.  Their tank divisions would have been in a higher state of readiness and the French military commanders would have been more flexible in retreating and counter-attacking, something they were woefully unprepared for. 

TiAbdel
TiAbdel

@marauder2048 @IanBortner  Oh really? till when? another intifada and see what happened even almighty Gadafi  or mubarak could not stop people's anger. when unjustice hits the core bone nothing can stop its explosion unless you go on mass killing of civilians. imagine the whole Arab people move to the Imaginary bording created by the occupior  then what? drop a bomb on them?

marauder2048
marauder2048

@IanBortner @marauder2048 

I don't agree with your assessment of the Maginot Line nor Iron Dome. Neither are/were premised on an "all or nothing" proposition. The Maginot line was designed to give the very large and capable French tank force time to assemble for a counter attack. And unlike the Maginot line, Iron Dome has been properly funded and has excellent coverage because its defending a volume of space not a line.

The Israelis point out that Iron Dome enables Israeli troops to mass for offensive or defensive actions with much less fear of being pummeled by enemy rockets;  in 2006, A dozen Israeli reservists were killed by a Hezbollah mass rocket attack on an Israeli assembly point. 

marauder2048
marauder2048

@itsa341 @IanBortner @marauder2048 

All very true. Yet, reducing the cost of interception would enable Israel to spend those savings on other much needed systems like active-protection systems for vehicles. 

itsa341
itsa341

@IanBortner @marauder2048 You sir are completely ignoring a large part of the equation here. Yes, the individual rockets may not cause millions of dollars in damages or hundreds of deaths and are relatively inexpensive, but the disruptions in commerce, tourism, infrastructure, etc cost billions of dollars. By spending $100,000 per rocket to hit the ones headed for populated areas you save millions or billions.

IanBortner
IanBortner

@marauder2048 @IanBortner  That is why I equated Iron Dome with the Maginot Line.  Both are "all or nothing" defensive systems with easily exploitable counter measures and an outrageous price tag.   Both are meant to hold back a dynamic, ever adapting enemy who has other means of attacking you.  

As for the Gaza quarantine, I agree that is probably what stopped the suicide bombings.  However, the Egyptian revolution has allowed Hamas to expand into the Sinai and Israel seems to be desperate to radicalize Fatah to try and avoid them leading the Palestinians towards statehood.  If Fatah and Hamas stood together in a new Intifadah against Israel I don't see how they could prevent suicide bombings in the future.  

It's possible Hamas is launching rockets simply to keep Israel busy in many places while terrorists penetrate their borders.  With Syria and Lebanon also destabilizing Jihadists can now enter Israel from the North, East, and South.  Many of the rebel groups in Libya and Syria are sworn enemies of Israel with ties to Hamas and are now holding American weapons.  Libyan stockpiles of all kinds of military hardware are missing and for all we know they could be in Gaza.  This is unlike any other Gazan conflict before it when you consider the changes in the theater in the last 18 months. 

marauder2048
marauder2048

@IanBortner @marauder2048 

I don't disagree with your perspective but from the Israel point-of-view, Jewish life is the most sacred thing on earth. The Israeli government was willing to release hundreds of hardcore terrorists with blood on their hands to get back one captive Israeli soldier. 

More cynically, Iron Dome batteries probably only engage en masse when vital military, economic and industrial infrastructure is threatened.  

I think Israel has defeated the suicide bombing threat by simply quarantining Gaza. It's a crude but effective strategy. 

IanBortner
IanBortner

@marauder2048 @IanBortner For a romantic that's true.  For a military realist, that's crazy.  Billions spent on a weapons system to defend against a dirt cheap weapon that can, at best, cause a few dozen casualties per year?  Worst case scenario for Hamas: their missiles are rendered ineffective and they convert the explosives to suicide bombs, a far more destructive weapon.  That leaves Israel with a worthless defensive system and with less money to spend on real weapons to fight their actual military  enemies like Iran, who have more than enough missiles and rockets to overwhelm any defensive system. 

IanBortner
IanBortner

Counter-measures against this system should be easy to cook up.  Launch a few dummy rockets that spread chaff and paint your real rockets with radar-absorbing charcoal and watch the multi-million dollar defense system fail.  In fact, for Hamas this works out great.  Instead of getting hit with a ground invasion right away they can test their new missiles for longer periods of time to figure out possible counter measures.  Iron dome can't last forever, it's too expensive.

smedleybutlersociety
smedleybutlersociety

"Israeli officials say." That's a good one. Then why has Israelcalled up reserves and why is it cranking up ground forces? And howabout this: Deadly mistake: IDF wipes out Palestinian family due totechnical error 

https://rt.com/news/gaza-family-idf-mistake-017/

noworries
noworries

@smedleybutlersociety those people voted for a terrorist group, the terrorist group decided to hide their bases around the people that voted for them so Hamas fault for hiding within its own people, what terrorist do best!

SamuelYap
SamuelYap

Fundamentalist Islam has become a worldwide threat. Wherever you have them, there is terrorism, killing and mayhem. Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, etc., are some examples. Did Islam's Founder, the Prophet Mohammed, really intended this? A good reading of the Koran would say otherwise. But to be honest about it, it's so easy to defend violence in Islam, which is the exact opposite of the New Testament. Mohammed founded his new religion in the matrix of violence, waging many wars to establish it. Jesus died on the Cross to establish Christianity. It is not hard to understand Israel's reaction to the violence of Hamas, since the Old Testament demanded a tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye. But Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship the same Yaweh, God and Allah. So why are His children fighting it out tooth and nail?

charleskaye
charleskaye like.author.displayName 1 Like

@SamuelYap - Why are they fighting? Christians and Jews have been able to live without fighting for a long time. It's only the muslims that wage war.

islam is a sick, twisted, vile cult of satanic followers. Any other questions why they know nothing more than to wage war to spread their disease?