Print 83 comment(s) - last by Paj.. on Nov 22 at 8:47 AM

Each interceptor missile costs roughly $62,000, is tasked with destroying improvised "Qassam" rockets from Hamas

In recent days, Israel has been pounded by waves of low-tech, crude, but deadly rockets fired at it from the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory.  But as the picture has emerged, it appears that Israel's missile defense system has spared it some of the potential damage.  The so-called "Iron Dome" system was fielded only as recently as 2008. Now it stands as perhaps the largest scale use of a wartime missile mitigation system in the history of modern warfare.

I. Hopes for Peace Fade

Israel thought that its concerns in the Gaza Strip were over in 2005. At the time, it made the bold decision to pull the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) out of the region and force all Israeli citizens to leave the 356 square kilometer part of the Palestinian territories which borders Egypt and Israel.

Despite having conquered the region in 1967 during the Six-Day War, in which Israel was attacked by several Middle Eastern nations, Israel's policy has been increasingly hands off.  Israel allows the Palestinian territory its own independent government.  For many years Egypt helped run this government, but more recently local politicians have controlled it.

The recent conflict began in 2006 when Hamas -- which the U.S. government categorizes as a terrorist organization -- took over the government of the Gaza strip, and in the aftermath silenced opposition party leaders in a bloody purge.  After the consolidation of power, Hamas called on its people to wage "holy war" with its neighbor.  Article 7 of the Islamist organization's covenant states that Palestinians must drive the Jews out of the Middle East, so that the Judgment Day predicted by the Islamic Prophet Mohammed can be realized [source].

For the past several years that directive has been behind escalating violence as Hamas's militia -- al-Qassam -- fired "Qassams" -- crude fertilizer-based improvised explosive missiles (IEMs) with a firearm cartridge, spring, and a nail serving as a detonator.

But the conflict dramatically escalated over the last week.  Following the November 14, 2012 air strike that killed top Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari (in retaliation for late 2011 and early 2012 missile strikes on Israel), Hamas appears to be pushing for full-blown war with Israel.  In the past five days, 877 rockets were fired at Israel according to the IDF (al-Qassam claims slightly more; 1093 rockets on its Twitter).

But according to the IDF, only 570 of those rockets reached targets; 307 were shot down by the Iron Dome system.

II. Iron Dome Steps Up

So what is Iron Dome?  

Iron Dome is a series of batteries deployed near the border of the Palestinian states.  Compared to Qassams, the Iron Dome missiles are on the other extreme of the technology spectrum.

Computer controlled, the warheads are nearly 10 feet long (3 meters), are roughly 6 inches in diameter, and weigh 90 kilograms (198 lb) according to security analyst group IHS Jane's.  The different models have ranges from 4 km (2.5 miles) to 70 km (43 miles) and carry a payload of 11 kg (24 lb) of high-impact explosives.  

Where as the Qassam rockets likely cost under $100 to manufacture, each Iron Dome interceptor missile carries a sticker price of around $62,000 USD.  Batteries to fire them cost approximately $50M USD.

The system is smart enough to assess where enemy missiles will land and determine whether it's worth it to send up an interceptor.  If the enemy missile is expected to kill civilians or damage key infrastructure, the battery locks in the course and attempts an interception.

Iron Dome
Iron Dome interceptors kill a Qassam rocket in this AP footage from Tel Aviv.
[Image Source: YouTube/AP]

The IDF describes the system's radar-based operation, commenting, "The radar detects a rocket launch and passes information regarding its path to the control center, which calculates the predicted point of impact.  If this location justifies an interception, a missile is fired to intercept the rocket. The payload of the interceptor missile explodes near the rocket, in a place that is not expected to cause injuries."

In 2011, three years after the first field tests, the system was boasting a 70 percent interception rate.  But such claims are often just hype -- the real question is how it would perform under a serious conflict scenario.

The answer has come this last week, as the system recorded a "real world", as IDF missiles killed 35 percent of incoming rockets.  In other words, roughly 1 in 3 missiles shot at Israel was successfully intercepted.

III. Finally a Successful Interceptor System?

Regardless of how many missiles targeted, the success rate appears to be well over 30 percent, making it arguably the highest real world success rate to date.  Israeli news agencies have suggested that approximately 80 to 90 percent of the rockets targeted have been hit.

Of course such claims are hard to verify; it's unclear whether the actual interception rate is better or worse than 70 percent figure the IDF previously boasted.  But what is clear is that the success rate is remarkable.

To put the kill rate in context, Raytheon Comp.'s (RTNPatriot interceptor system -- a similar system -- is though to have had an under 10 percent real-world success rate in the Gulf War, according to Congressional testimony by Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Reuven Pedatzur of Tel Aviv University  -- a pair of top military experts.

Further, in operation Iraqi Freedom the Patriot interceptor system suffered some serious glitches, with three friendly fire incidents.  In another incident a F-16CJ Fighting Falcon jet fighter detected that a Patriot battery had erroneously locked onto it.  To defend itself, the U.S. Air Force pilot engaged countermeasures which destroyed the battery; fortunately no injuries were reported.

Raytheon's Patriot interceptor system has suffered from performance issues; in Operation Iraqi Freedom a F-16CJ had to fire on and destroy one of the Raytheon batteries to prevent its own destruction, after the battery's malfunctioning control algorithms accidentally locked onto it.
[Image Source: Andrews Air Force Base]

To be fair, part of the Israeli success is owed to the U.S. who has subsidized the system.  Congress in 2010 allocated $205M USD to Iron Dome, and President Obama last year pushed through an addition $70M USD in funding.

In a speech he commented, "This is a program that has been critical in terms of providing security and safety for Israeli families.  It is a program that has been tested and has prevented missile strikes inside of Israel."

The system is designed by company called Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., an advanced technologies firm which is also responsible for the Protector USV -- an unmanned 11 meter ship, which the company claims is the world's first surface unmanned naval war vessel.

Iron Dome
RAFAEL's missile defense system is proving relatively effective. [Image Source: Rafael]

An important note is that the interception claims have not been thoroughly independently validated, and may only be sorted out in the aftermath of the conflict.  Observers on the ground have reportedly witnessed some of the interceptions.  And the IDF's claimed interception rate seems more feasible than the U.S. Military and Raytheon's potentially misleading claims from the two Iraq conflicts.

At the end of the day, it appears that Iron Dome may be the world's most sophisticated and proven successful anti-missile system.  Thus in some ways it is the realization of many a failed Cold War dream, such as President Ronald Reagan's (R) infamous Star Wars project.  It should be interesting to watch the results as the Israeli-Gaza conflict continues and Iron Dome continues its trial by fire.

Sources: IDF [Twitter], al-Qassam [Twitter], Janes, AP/YouTube [Interceptor hit footage]

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

RE: Please check your history
By Ringold on 11/19/2012 11:31:45 PM , Rating: 0
Another bit of context: At the same time, we were threatening Israel that, oh, all those spare parts and whatnot vital for maintenance for their military? Yeah, if they didn't execute the war the way we wanted, they might get.. delayed. As if Israel was our puppet, and we the puppet master. Arrogance on our part of the first order.

I didn't read past page 3 of that basically empty article after it admitted it didn't know anything, so maybe they brought up how we were bullying Israel behind the scenes, maybe not. And not suggesting it may have contributed to that. Point is, our hands aren't clean either, nor are the hands of our CIA and other covert agencies over the past 60, 70 years.

People trying to wage an anti-Israeli campaign love to bring up the Liberty, but its also a sign of desperation that there's only one major slip up in a very long, deep relationship.

RE: Please check your history
By nolisi on 11/20/2012 3:12:49 AM , Rating: 3
People trying to wage an anti-Israeli campaign love to bring up the Liberty, but its also a sign of desperation that there's only one major slip up in a very long, deep relationship.

Since when is bringing up historical fact "waging an anti-Israeli campaign?" You're missing the ultimate context of the issue of the Liberty. It's that Israel was willing to do anything to execute its assault on its Arab neighbors, including attack an ally which might warn of the impending attack (because the US was trying to be the puppet master). And then try to cover it up by claiming "we thought it was an Egyptian cargo vessel." Israel at the time even claimed they were attacked first, then retracted the statement and since then, Israeli apologists keep pointing to the "aggressive" language of its neighbors, meanwhile ignoring the fact that Israel was already attacking in a less coordinated offensive prior to the war.

No one is suggesting Arabs weren't making "aggressive statements" nor didn't have aggressive posture. But you have to ignore all kinds of context in order to place the blame of Israel's attack squarely on themselves. Israel was already attacking.

As for "bullying Israel behind the scenes"- yeah, we did a great job bullying them- we gave them the equipment that they ultimately attacked us with.

Again, before you respond, please remember that I'm not making the suggestion that anyone had "clean hands." I'm merely bringing up the facts that you're going to to great extents to ignore, meanwhile suggesting that my mention of them somehow relates to an "anti-Israeli" campaign.

RE: Please check your history
By Ringold on 11/20/2012 10:13:35 PM , Rating: 2
It's that Israel was willing to do anything to defend itself.

There. I fixed that for you. That's what any nation would do. Their citizens come first. Anything that in any way endangers it could come in its cross hairs.

I'm merely bringing up the facts that you're going to to great extents to ignore, meanwhile suggesting that my mention of them somehow relates to an "anti-Israeli" campaign.

I do believe it's the aim you have. I don't ignore the facts, I've been aware of the Liberty attack long before DT was ever a website. It's just utterly irrelevant in the balance of the long, deep history of our friendship with Israel, nor does it at all reflect on all our shared values and goals. Some liberals in this country, and I don't know entirely why, just sympathize with the Palestinians to the point where Israel can only do right without still being painted negatively and the Palestinians could commit genocide and I think you'd suggest, ah, well, those Zionist dogs were asking for it! Nonsense, and seeing the attacks in the media.. I saw Senator Lieberman in an interview last night. His old lifelong party has deeply, deeply disappointed him.

RE: Please check your history
By nolisi on 11/21/2012 1:46:55 PM , Rating: 2
It's just utterly irrelevant in the balance of the long, deep history of our friendship with Israel

Dude, you seriously have issues with context. My aim in bringing up the Liberty has *nothing* to do with the US-Israel relationship. You might be arguing against a point someone else brought up, but not me. Drop it. Reread my posts and show me where I made any statement on the impact it should have on our "friendship."

My point was about the depth of Israeli aggression- Israel wasn't satisfied in just attacking Syria (the fact you keep ignoring) in the lead up to the Six Day War, they had to assault every nation surrounding them including an ally that would have warned of the impending attack. They then went on to try and cover it up by claiming they thought it was an Egyptian civilian vessel. Again, they tried to excuse their attack of an ally by stating they "thought" they were attacking civilians.

This is how justified Israel believed its aggression was: they were actively attacking Jordan and Syria in the lead up to the Six Day War (Israeli Generals have confirmed this), they launched the initial attacks during the Six Day War and claimed they were attacked (which they later retracted), and justified their attack of an ally by stating they thought they were attacking Arab civilians rather than American military.

My aim is only to point out the depth of Israeli aggression and the extent to which they were willing to execute on their capture of territory (the whole point of the Six Day War- response to the Arabs "aggressive language" was only an excuse). And when they were told they couldn't hold on to Egyptian and Syrian territory, then a few years later they invaded Lebanon during its Civil War displacing its southern population, creating a perpetual warzone until they were forced to withdraw in 2000.

But sure, again, you go ahead and keep focusing on the extreme language used by the Arabs rather than the extreme action of Israel before, during, and after the Six Day War.

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki