By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
The U.S. Army, along with Israeli representatives, has successfully tested a new missile defense system, Iron Dome, at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. One part of this test involved the successful interception of targets by U.S. Army troops.
Iron Dome is a defense system built to destroy short-range missiles. It is designed to work alongside the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, an anti-ballistic missile defense system designed to intercept and destroy short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase.
Iron Dome is designed to protect ground troops against an ever-growing range of aerial threats, including short-range projectiles, unmanned drones and cruise missiles. What is different about this system is the fact it has already been tested battleground conditions; the Israeli army utilized Iron Dome several times during conflicts in Gaza and around Lebanon’s border.
Most defense system tests in New Mexico are conducted before the system is put to use in real life. In this case, the opposite was true.
Where Will Iron Dome Missile Defense System Batteries Be Used?
According to the Jerusalem Post, Brigadier General Brian Gibson, the lead on the Army’s air and missile defense modernization effort, was recently interviewed by Defense News. Gibson commented on the location of the Iron Dome batteries bought by the U.S. Army:
“That plan is being developed and finalized at the headquarters of the Department of the Army and across the enterprise on what makes sense based on all the various variables that get a vote including threat, money, transportation, time – all those things. But I’m confident from a user perspective that if directed to do so, we’re on a timeline and on a path to make it absolutely feasible to deploy this thing, and that remains our intent. Our intent is not to park them in a parking garage.”
The Cost and Capabilities of Iron Dome
The Jerusalem Post also reported that the deal cost one billion dollars and that the batteries include 12 launchers, two sensors, two battlement management centers, and 240 interceptors.
The Jerusalem Post noted, “The fully mobile system carries 10 kg. of explosives, and can intercept an incoming projectile from four to 70 km. away. It is able to calculate when rockets will land in open areas – choosing not to intercept them – or toward civilian centers.”
Israeli Contributions to the Iron Dome System
Several Israeli companies played a part in the construction of Iron Dome:
- Rafael Advanced Systems was the primary contractor for the development and production of the Iron Dome.
- The Multi-Mission Radar (MMR) used for Iron Dome was developed by Elta Systems Ltd., a subsidiary of IAI.
- The command-and-control system was developed by mPrest.
Iron Dome has already proven its worth by being used in combat several times – most recently in the latest conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. Israeli sources told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Iron Dome system will be deployed by the U.S. in several locations.
Iron Dome’s Performance Has Been Impressive, and Other Countries Are Interested
The performance of Iron Dome in Gaza a few months ago was impressive; it intercepted 90% of the targets. If this number is indeed correct, it is a testament to the abilities of this defense system and proof to any potential buyer that Iron Dome is a proven tool in the arsenal of any army in contemporary warfare.
However, it is important to note that Iron Dome is not the only missile defense system used in Israel. Other defense systems are meant to deal with threats such as medium-range missiles and ballistic missiles that leave the atmosphere.
The agreement to supply the Iron Dome system to the U.S. Army came before the last clash in Gaza, but it seems that now there is a clear stream of data to support the usefulness of Iron Dome. In recent years, several armies from different countries have decided to buy the Iron Dome system.
India, for example, signed an agreement to purchase Iron Dome batteries for two billion dollars. Other countries interested in purchasing the System include Romania and Azerbaijan.
Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III, former director of the Missile Defense Agency, praised Iron Dome in a recent Defense News article. He stated, “It is excellent news that the Army has acquired the Iron Dome. However, limiting the purchase and deployment undervalues its potential to protect American troops. Washington and Jerusalem should work together so that the U.S. military can implement more of these game-changing defenses.”
The Close Relationship Between the US Army and Israel
The purchase of Iron Dome is an example of the close relationship the U.S. Army has with Israeli defense companies. The technological advancements in Israeli warfare are often funded with U.S. grants. That Israeli technology eventually makes its way back to the U.S. and is adapted for the American military.
Iron Dome will attempt to limit the ability of threat actors to exert pressure not only on military targets but also on the population centers inhabited by civilians. But let’s remember that even though Iron Dome is more affordable than anything else on the market, it still costs between $20,000-$30,000 to intercept a projectile that costs less than $1,000 to build. In other words, an inferior military force can still exert pressure on a superior army.
Iron Dome is at the epicenter of modern warfare, whether it’s used in a high-intensity or low-intensity conflict. The use of missile defense systems like Iron Dome and other systems that are intended to deal with ballistic missile threats or short-range projectiles are extremely important and will be a vital part of future strategic discourses. The U.S.-Israeli cooperation is yet another example of a strategic alliance that has its sights on the battleground of the future.