Raytheon Technologies and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems have signed today a joint venture to establish a production facility for the Iron Dome Weapon System in the United States. The new partnership, called Raytheon RAFAEL Area Protection Systems, anticipates finalizing a site location before the end of the year. This will be the first Iron Dome all-up-round facility outside of Israel.

The U.S. production facility will provide Israel the ability to finance the acquisition of Iron Dome batteries, and Tamir missile interceptor reloads with U.S. military support. It will also provide the U.S. Department of Defense and allies across the globe to obtain the Iron Dome system for the defense of their service members and critical infrastructure. “We have long partnered on U.S. production of Iron Dome and are pleased to increase manufacturing and bring SkyHunter to the U.S.,” said Brig. Gen. (res.) Pini Yungman, executive vice president for Air and Missile Defense of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

The majority of Tamir missile components are already procured through the Raytheon Missiles & Defense supply chain in the United States. The new facility will produce both the Iron Dome Weapon System, which consists of the Tamir interceptor and launcher, and the SkyHunter missile, a U.S. derivative of Tamir. The SkyHunter addresses component and system changes required to meet U.S. certification and regulation but otherwise is identical to Israel’s Tamir, in system interfaces and performance. Both Tamir and SkyHunter intercept incoming cruise missiles, unmanned aerial systems, and short-range targets such as rockets, artillery, mortars, and other aerial threats.

First deployed in 2011, Rafael’s Iron Dome has become one of the symbols of Israel’s defense innovation, for its capability to defeat thousands of rocket attacks launched at Israel since 2011. Today, some 10 batteries are operated with Israel’s Air Force Air Defense Command, five by the regular forces, and five with the reserve component. The Israeli Navy is also fielding a naval version of the Iron Dome called ‘C-Dome’ on its newest Magen corvettes, tasked with safeguarding Israel’s offshore gas platforms in the Eastern Mediterranean.

A launch of Tamir missile from a mobile Iron-Dome launcher. Photo: Rafael

Iron Dome detects, assesses, and intercepts a variety of shorter-range targets such as rockets, artillery, and mortars. The system has also been tested and proved its capability to intercept unmanned aerial vehicles and mortar rounds. It is effective day or night and in all weather conditions, including low clouds, rain, dust storms, and fog. It features a first-of-its-kind multi-mission launcher designed to fire a variety of interceptor missiles.

Iron Dome’s Tamir missile knocks down incoming threats launched from ranges of 4-70 km. Tamir missiles feature electro-optical sensors and steering fins with proximity fuze blast warheads. The interceptor has also been validated against unmanned aerial vehicles, and countering rockets, mortars, and missiles (C-RAM).

Ten Iron Dome batteries already protect the citizens and infrastructure of Israel, with each battery comprising three to four stationary launchers, 20 Tamir missiles, and a battlefield radar. Each of the batteries can defend up to nearly 150 square kilometers and are strategically placed around cities to intercept threats headed toward populated areas. The intelligent Iron Dome system ignores incoming threats it determines will land in uninhabited areas, thereby minimizing unnecessary defensive launches and lowering operation costs.

Major bases us used by U.S. forces in the Middle East. Source: Al Jazeera

Given interest by the U.S. and several other nations in Iron Dome’s unique capabilities, Raytheon Missiles & Defense has introduced a US-made variant of the system dubbed ‘SkyHunter’. In 2019, the U.S. Army announced its intent to buy two Iron Dome batteries to fill a need for an interim capability. The U.S. Army has chosen Iron Dome as an interim capability to counter cruise missiles. At the same time, it continues to develop a future Indirect Fires Protection Capability (IFPC) to counter those threats as well as enemy UAS and RAM. The acquisition, mandated by Congress, will be used to acquire systems that will protect U.S. forces overseas from rocket and missile attacks.

[wlm_ismember]It was reported in February 2018 that the U.S. Army had asked Congress for $373 million to buy two batteries off-the-shelf from Rafael, which included 12 launchers, two sensors, two battlement management centers, and 240 interceptors. By early August 2020, the U.S. Army delivered to Israel several HEMTT trucks intended for those systems for the system’s integration.

Iran operates several types of Fateh-110 guided ballistic missiles, among them this twin-launcher Zolfaghar. The missile has a range of 300 – 750 km and an accuracy of few meters (for the INS/GPS guidance).

The Army intends to field its first Iron Dome unit by the end of 2020. This unit will, most likely, deploy to protect forward-based U.S. forces stationed in the Gulf.

Despite its impressive combat record, the Israeli C-RAM is regarded as an interim solution as the Army has difficulties in combining the Iron Dome through its Integrated air and missiles Battle Command System (IBCS). This overarching authority will supervise all Army air defense assets under an integrated, collaborative network. U.S. officials claimed the Army had difficulties integrating the Iron Dome into IBCS, lacking specific source codes of the interceptor missiles.

As part of the recent Great Prophet 14 exercise, a Fateh-110 missile targeted the AN/TPY-2 radar mock-up.

Nevertheless, the need to jointly operate complementary systems in a layered defense is stronger than long term policy guidelines, as the threat is evolving rapidly, challenging even the most ambitious capabilities. A new development recently demonstrated by Iran may have uncovered a vulnerability they could exploit, targeting U.S. anti-missile system stationed in the Middle east – the Terminal High Altitude Defense System (THAAD).

As part of an exercise recently conducted by the Iranian forces, Fateh-110 missiles targeted a mockup of a US AN/TPY-2 early-warning missile defense radar, a sensor associated with the THAAD system. It is not clear what guidance the Iranian weapon employs, but it did score a direct hit. While the THAAD is designed to defeat missiles coming from a medium range of several hundred kilometers, it may be vulnerable to a saturation attack by short-range weapons such as ballistic or cruise missiles and drones. The Iron Dome is designed to defeat such threats, and when associated with the long-range system such as the THAAD, would close this vulnerable gap.[/wlm_ismember]

[wlm_nonmember]THAAD and Iron Dome Integration – Premium Content[/wlm_nonmember]

AN/TPY-2 radars are operating in the Middle East by the U.S. Army, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. A document guiding the joint operations of US THAAD and Israeli Iron Dome was signed last week by the U.S. and Israeli air forces, Navy and Army. The agreement addressed the requirements for the joint operation of the two systems in case of an emergency in Israel. The U.S. has stationed AN/TPY-2 radar in Israel.