Israel scrambles the 8th Iron Dome unit with David’s Sling elements

Amidst operation ‘Protective Edge’, and under barrages of rockets fired from Gaza, Israel is deploying the 8th Iron Dome battery, a step that will extend the nation’s defense against those rockets.

The EL/M-2284 Multi-Mode Radar produced by IAI Elta for the David's Sling, is now committed to the new Iron Dome unit. Photo: IMOD
RAFAEL Iron Dome anti-rocket system
RAFAEL Iron Dome anti-rocket system firing during Operation Pillar of defense in 2012.

Seven Iron Dome Counter-Rockets, Artillery and Missiles (C-RAM) systems are currently deployed throughout Israel, and have sofar provided an impressive success rate, intercepting over 120 rockets that would have hit populated areas. According to the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO), the system’s success rate is nearing 90 percent.

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The new battery that was completed ahead of schedule has been integrated from modular systems collected from other programs, including training assets and the first David’s Sling Weapon System, currently undergoing developmental testing. A week later the Air Force inducted the ninth Iron Dome battery, as Rafael has accelerated the delivery of the unit, months ahead of schedule.

In addition to the new system, the Iron Dome prime contractor RAFAEL and the Israel Air Force active defense wing have implemented many changes in the operational Iron Dome systems, considerably extending their operational performance.

These extended capabilities addressed evolving, longer range threats and large salvos, as characterised by variants of the 300mm rockets from Syrian, Iranian and local production, that have entered service with Hamas in Gaza. The David’s Sling and Iron Dome share several common components, such as the radar and some battle management modules, which can be configured to support either system by software changes.

The EL/M-2284 Multi-Mode Radar produced by IAI Elta for the David's Sling, is now committed to the new Iron Dome unit. Photo: IMOD
The EL/M-2084 Multi-Mode Radar produced by IAI Elta for the David’s Sling, is now committed to the new Iron Dome unit. The larger radar also provides enhanced coverage. Photo: IMOD

During operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 Hamas tried to challenge the Iron Dome with massive rocket barrages, of 16 and 20 rockets. Back then Iron Dome has met these challenges successfully, but the Israel MOD decided to preempt future shortages by increase the production rate of the Tamir interceptor missiles, doubling the production line capacity of Tamir missiles. In addition, continued US funding is calling RAFAEL to source at least half of the missile’s in the USA, with Raytheon becoming the lead for these US sourcing operations. (More details below)

[nonmember]rockets_map725[/nonmember][ismember]rockets_map725[/ismember]Through the first four days of the current conflict Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations in Gaza have fired over 490 rockets. This time they shifted to larger numbers of long-range rockets, as well as more massive salvos, some counting up to 50 rockets fired in quick succession. Iron Dome has successfully intercepted massive salvos of 122mm GRAD rockets, as well as salvos of Fajr 3, M75 and R160 rockets, the later are M302 fired at ranges of 160 km.

[ismember]Defending from threats at these ranges have challenged Iron Dome considerably, since the system was originally designed to counter rockets fired from ranges of 7 to 70 km. Although specific details were not released, through operation ‘Protective Edge’ Iron Dome clearly demonstrated its capability to intercept rockets below and beyond these ranges. However, with rockets fire covering cities over half of Israel, from Haifa in the north, to Jerusalem and Dimona in the east and south, the deployment of Iron Dome batteries has been spread to maximize coverage, hence, the importance of the addition of the new unit.

Joint Israeli-US Operation

The production of Iron Dome systems and Tamir interceptor missiles are funded by the US Government, through a special funding allocated by the US Congress. In March 2014 the US administration awarded US$429 to continue funding the program through fiscal year 2014. The missile systems produced under this funding are expected to become operational next year. Funding for the remaining five batteries was approved by the US Congress July 17, allocating additional $315 million for the system for FY15.

Israel continues to expand its multi-layered air and missile defense system, with the fielding of more Iron Dome Counter-Rockets, Artillery and Mortars (C-RAM) systems. From a business standpoint, Iron Dome procurement is now relevant not only to the Israeli industries but also for the US. As the program is backed by generous U.S. funding recently cleared by the US Congress, U.S. legislators have demanded that up to half of the acquisition will be made in the US.

The Israeli government has agreed to spend more than half the funds the Pentagon provides for its Iron Dome system in the U.S., bolstering the political appeal of the missile-defense system in America. The Raytheon Company, RAFAEL’s partner on the David’s Sling and Iron Dome was selected to find U.S. suppliers for the program. Funds going to U.S. contractors for components of the Israeli-built, Pentagon-funded system will jump to 30 percent this year and 55 percent next year from 3 percent previously, according to a U.S. Missile Defense Agency report to Congress obtained by Bloomberg News. That amounts to at least $97 million of $176 million requested by the Defense Department for the coming fiscal year.

Since Iron Dome system and, more specifically the Tamir missile interceptor are ‘designed to cost’ to maintain the system’s affordable cost per intercept, the Iron Dome co-production agreement between with Israel and the US includes a provision allowing production of any part to revert to Rafael if its U.S. price exceeds what it would cost to make in Israel by five percent or more. the first contracts to be awarded by July will call for production of parts for Iron Dome’s Tamir interceptor, including the incoming rocket seeker and fuse.[/ismember]

Iron dome criticized

Meanwhile, new reports in the USA again criticized Iron Dome as “Failing at Crucial Task” to destroy the warheads of incoming rocket targeted by the interceptor. According to the [nonmember]MIT Technology Review[/nonmember] [ismember]MIT Technology Review[/ismember], Richard Lloyd, a weapons expert and consultant who is a past Engineering Fellow at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, says that because these interceptions had almost certainly not detonated the rockets’ warheads, the system is essentially failing.

Ted Postol, MIT physicist and missile-defense expert added his own critics, saying “Instead of smoothly rising to meet their targets, the interceptors were making sharp turns and engaging from the side or behind” Those problems appear to be continuing in the current conflict, Postol added. [ismember]“We expected that after more than a year and a half of time, whatever problems there were in the system related to guidance and control would be mitigated, or somewhat mitigated,” he says. “As it turns out, this is not the case. As far as we can tell, it is behaving in the same erratic way as it did in November 2012.” [/ismember]

While the two experts are widely quoted by the media, their comments about the system’s performance are countless, at least, by the clear cut results demonstrated by Iron Dome. Not only by the high intercept ratio (which can be argued, lacking clear numbers related to which rockets were actually engaged), but also by the low casualties count on the Israeli side, which clearly indicates better exchange ratio than in the Lead Cast and 2nd Lebanon War conflicts, where similar rockets were extensively used against population centers throughout Israel. With over 800 rockets fired, 635 ‘crossed the border’, 149 of the rockets were intercepted in the past five days.

Another aspect of the system’s overwhelming success is that it is too good. “Israel’s astonishingly effective Iron Dome air defense has prevented Hamas from killing Israeli Jews and spreading terror in the civilian population. Ironically, though, the better Iron Dome works, the less sympathy the rest of the world has for a nation that remains under rocket attack.” Bloomberg’s Peter Coy reported from Jerusalem. 

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