Israel's Iron-Dome Missile Interceptor to Become Operational by May 2010

The Israel Ministry of Defense confirmed the Iron Dome Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) interceptor system has passed system qualification tests in recent days. Expecting to receive the first systems next month, the Israel Air Force (IAF) air defense command Iron Dome battalion is scheduled to reach initial operational capability in five months (sometime in May 2010). Iron Dome is developed and produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

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The Iron Dome battalion will allocate the first unit to protect the area bordering with the northern Gaza strip (the city of Sderot) in southern Israel. A second unit is slated to protect areas in northern Israel, along the border with Lebanon. While protecting civil population is the most visible mission of Iron Dome, apart from protecting the Israeli settlements and towns vulnerable to rocket attacks, the system will play a critical role in the defense of strategic sites located in these areas. By defending military bases, staging areas, forward air bases and ports, the system will protect sensitive sites that play an important role in IDF capability conducting surge operations, such as the 'Second Lebanon War in 2006 and operation 'Lead Cast' operation in Gaza in 2009.

Attacks on military facilities, especially airfields that have become more vulnerable in recent wars, could even increase in the future. Therefore, a combined C-RAM and Very Short Range Air Defense (VSHORAD) is requiring as active defense measures, to ensure the Air Force maintaining full and unrestricted operational tempo from forward locations as well as from main operational bases. Iron Dome and the upper layer defense established by David Sling could provide the necessary countermeasures against such threats

However, funding for the project seems still unsecured. As the program is formally transferred from development to production, the Israel Ministry of Defense (IMOD) will have to allocate significant resources to continue the momentum on two acquisition programs – sofar IMOD spent about US$215 million from a budget allocated by the government in 2007. A similar amount was allocated for the development of the David Sling (the latter is partly financed by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency). However, full deployment of the systems could cost hundred of millions, if not more. Export sales could be vital to sustain the program at a healthy state. Rafael has already engaged in several campaigns presenting the system to foreign customers, some have been successful. Israel decided to pursue the development of the system independently, as U.S. officials were sceptical about the feasibility, schedule and development cost. However, in recent months the U.S. position has changed, and the Israel MOD is hopeful that U.S. support for the acquisition is now feasible, particularly if rRafael could formalize a cooperation with a U.S. partner.

Iron Dome's ability to provide point defense for forward operating bases (FOB) has captured the interest of coalition partners engaged in combat in Afghanistan. While the U.S. Army is also developing the Extended Area Protection (EAPS) systems, these are not as mature as the Israeli solution. Other coalition partners are employing rapid firing cannons to protect FOBs, but these are limited in range and are limited to the protection of a small area. The Iron Dome could provide effective protection of a much larger area, including roads, checkposts and Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) facilities located in neighboring areas.

During the final test series conducted in Southern Israel, Iron Dome successfully engaged salvos of live rockets and mortar shells. During the tests lasting about two weeks, and conducted with full participation of teams from the IAF Iron Dome air defense battalion, the system repeatedly engaged rocket salvos and mortar shells in increasingly complex scenarios. The system demonstrated effective detection and intercept of targets above abd below cloud cover, and maintaining 'keep out zones' for integration with air traffic over the protected area. Iron Dome detected, tracked and selectively engaged those targets presenting a threat to the areas being protected. This feature - unique to the Israeli active defense systems - is attributed to the multi-mode radar (MMR) and battle management and weapon control (BMC) system developed for the Iron Dome. Similar capabilities are being implemented in the next active-defense layer – known as 'David Sling'. This middle-tier defense system, currently in development, could become operational in 3-4 years.

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Tamir missile, the interceptor of the new Iron-Dome C-RAM is seen here on an earlier test launch. Below - a seequence of photos taken by a high-speed camera showing the intercept. Photo: RAFAEL

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Two images capturing the the intercept of a 122mm GRAD rocket, by a Tamir missile, during a recent Iron-Dome system test. Photo: Israel IMOD.