Everyone has heard about this Israeli air defense system, but few people know about it in detail. In this article we will try to clear everything out. There is a lot of talk in Ukraine now about the need to secure the skies to prevent the invaders’ air attacks, and to protect our cities from air and missile strikes. We all understand that NATO countries will not take this step, but such requests are constantly appearing in the media and on social networks. The events of recent months have taught us that we need to think about our own safety, including the safety of our airspace. Our air defenses are constantly being replenished with new weapons, powerful missile systems and MPADS to help fight enemy airstrikes. We have already written about the anti-aircraft armament of our air defenses, as well as about its shortcomings and the lack of long-range anti-aircraft systems.
There is a lot of talk about this topic. Many experts, journalists and the military offer to analyze to the experience of Israel and its famous Iron Dome. We decided to take a closer look at this issue and find out what Israel’s multi-purpose mobile air defense system is. All of this is to be discussed in our material below.
What is Iron Dome?
In short, the Iron Dome is an efficient multi-purpose mobile air defense system developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The development on this system was initiated in December 2007 and was completed in three years. The system was first used in combat in less than a month after its adoption on April 7, 2011.
It is the lowest tier of Israel’s missile defense architecture, designed to counter uncontrolled missile and unmanned attacks from the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon.
Iron Dome is characterized by very high mobility and a wide range of applications. It can be used to intercept missiles, even very short-range, artillery and mortar shells, aircraft, helicopters, drones, high-precision ammunition and cruise missiles. In short, systems of this type are called C-RAM (counter rocket, artillery and mortar systems).
The system can operate in all weather conditions, including heavy rain, low clouds, sandstorms or thick fog.
The system consists of three main elements: the ELM 2084 (MMR) detection and tracking radar, the Battery Management Center (BMC) and the Tamir interceptor missile launcher.
Why was Iron Dome created?
In the war between Israel and the Palestinians, no one is particularly picky on the means of war. Because Palestine does not have its own army, it acts with guerrilla methods and uses improvised weapons. It must be understood that these weapons are not very accurate, they do not have great destructive power, but this is enough to harm the civilian population and damage thee infrastructure of the country.
Israel is constantly facing unexpected missile or mortar strikes. The threat can come from virtually any direction, and densely populated areas of Israeli cities are easy targets for even low-precision weapons. Without a guidance system, a missile may not always hit a target, but if it does, the loss of people or infrastructure can be significant. Due to the small distance between the launcher and the target, the time between the shot and hit the target is within 15-90 seconds, which gives very little time for the reaction of civilians and the military. Therefore, it was necessary to take measures to minimize such threats, and as a result, the Iron Dome system was created.
History and accomplishments of Iron Dome
Israel began developing the Iron Dome in 2007, completed its last tests in 2010 and deployed the system’s first batteries in 2011. Between 2011 and April 2016, the Iron Dome reportedly intercepted more than 1,500 targets. Thus, during the conflict with Hamas in November 2012, the Israeli military claimed that the Iron Dome intercepted 85% of 400 missiles fired from the Gaza Strip, which were aimed at strategic sites or areas of civilian residence.
Between 2012 and 2014, Israel made a minor overhaul of the system, and at the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Gaza Strip in 2014, nine batteries were operating, two of which were commissioned urgently. Prior to the conflict, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad had amassed up to 10,000 missiles and mortars in the Gaza Strip.
During the summer, 4,500 missiles and mines were fired at Israel. About 800 were identified as threatening Israeli settlements and were locked on. Of these, 735 were successfully shot down, which is 90%. Thus the Iron Dome system saved hundreds of Israeli lives.
Prior to the Iron Dome, during the 2006 Lebanese War, the Hezbollah terrorist group launched 3,970 missiles at Israel. Of these, 901 hit the settlements, killing 44 Israelis.
Israel has been updating its Iron Dome software and hardware since the system was launched. In November 2017, Israel successfully demonstrated a naval version of the system called the C-Dome, which destroyed several air targets during a combat fire test.
In March 2021, Israel completed the modernization of the Iron Dome, which allowed engaging of missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. According to officials, Israel tested these capabilities during tests that included simultaneous missile volleys and drone attacks.
By May 2021, Israel had 10 working Iron Dome batteries and intercepted nearly 1,000 missiles launched during fighting in the Gaza Strip. At the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2021, a group of militants fired more than 4,000 missiles at Israel, about 20-33% of which did not reach Israeli territory.
During the crisis, the Israelis claimed that the Iron Dome had shown 90% effectiveness in destroying enemy missiles. Some sources claim that the Iron Dome intercepted 1,428 of the 1,500 missiles approaching human settlements, achieving 95% success. It was also reported for the first time that the system intercepted and destroyed five drones launched from the Gaza Strip.
Israeli-American cooperation in development of Iron Dome
The Iron Dome system was originally developed by the Israeli military-industrial complex, and later the United States began to provide financial support for the project. It was only after some time that Israel allowed the United States to produce some components for its complex. Although now 55% of them are made in the United States.
As I mentioned above, in addition to the land version, Israel has also developed a naval system (C-Dome) that can be based on warships. It provided the ability to strike accurate blows from a moving platform, such as a maneuverable ship. The US military has played a very important role in this project.
In addition, the Iron Dome system is part of the integrated I-Dome solution for maneuvering troops in the field, and it can be installed on one vehicle.
How many Iron Dome systems are operating now?
Israel is very careful about keeping its military secrets, so information about how many batteries and in what configuration it keeps on the front line is classified. It is estimated that currently it is about 10 batteries. It is believed that each battery can cover an area of 150 square kilometers.
The United States purchased two Iron Dome batteries, and both were shipped to Fort Bliss, Texas. This location was chosen because of its proximity to the American White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Subsequently, the systems will be sent to the Middle East to protect US bases in the region from unexpected airstrikes.
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What is Iron Dome made of?
The Iron Dome battery includes 3-4 launchers, a combat control system and radar. Each launcher can contain up to 20 Tamir interceptors. As of 2012/2013, production of the complete battery cost approximately $ 100 million. Each Iron Dome battery can protect an area of up to 150 square kilometers from tactical missiles and mortar fire. To save interceptor missiles, the Iron Dome system can distinguish between missiles that threaten human settlements and those that fall into the open without causing damage.
The Iron Dome system consists of three main components. The first of them is responsible for detecting threats, it is a multifunctional multi-sensor radar ELM-2084 MS-MMR. It was developed by Elta, a member of Israeli Aerospace Industries. The radar operates in the S range and is equipped with an antenna with active phase scanning. In addition to the Iron Dome, this radar is also used in the Israeli David’s Sling and Barak systems.
The ELM 2084 MMR multi-purpose radar detects incoming targets and provides guidance to the Tamir interceptor missile. It is a 3D active array with electronic scanning (AESA), which operates in the S-band frequency. According to the manufacturer, the ELM 2084 has the ability to track up to 1,100 targets.
The second component is the Iron Dome battlefield control system, developed by mPrest Systems, which is affiliated with the aforementioned Rafael.
The last component is jet propulsion systems and interceptor missiles developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. The Iron Dome can detect and hit targets at a distance of up to 70 km. The Tamir interceptor has a length of 3 m, a diameter of 0.16 m and a weight at the time of launch of 90 kg. It uses a command line and an active airborne radar homing system to guide, and uses high-explosive fragmentation warheads to destroy targets. Launchers may be at a distance from other components.
Initially, the cost of production of the Tamir interceptor was estimated at $ 100,000, but recent estimates put the unit at about $ 40,000 to $ 50,000.
How does Iron Dome work?
Iron Dome radars constantly monitor the country’s airspace to detect missiles or artillery shells. Once captured, the entire data is immediately transmitted to the Control Center, where it is processed, and after analysis using computer algorithms is sent to operators behind the control panels. They decide whether to activate interceptor missiles or not. When the decision is made to intercept this threat, a missile is launched at the target, the task of which is to destroy it.
The system works selectively. This means that the Iron Dome does not destroy every target detected. When the computers responsible for analyzing the incoming missile decide that it will not hit settlements or fall into the sea, no further action is taken. If the system determines that the incoming missile is a threat, it launches an anti-aircraft missile.
Initially, due to two-way communication, it is controlled by a radar station, but after approaching the target, a very sensitive active radar system of precise guidance, installed in the bow of the missile, comes into operation. As Tamir approaches the target, an extremely accurate and overload-resistant contactless fuse activates a 35-pound warhead that neutralizes the threat.
Is Iron Dome reliable?
According to the manufacturer, the Iron Dome system is 90% effective, thus only 10% of the shells fired by the enemy reach the target. Given the small distances between attackers and defenders, different directions of attack, different intensity, not always ideal weather conditions and different firing times, we can assume that the system is very effective in these conditions.
For the most part, a single projectile is used to neutralize a single target. When the system detects a potential threat to a key facility or area of the country, two Tamir missiles can be fired at the same target, further increasing the likelihood of destroying the threat.
Even America’s best missile defense systems require two missiles to neutralize the target, so the Iron Dome can be considered the world’s highest standard. Looking more broadly, the Iron Dome is even superior to them, given the short distances from the launch site and the short response time and disposal of the object.
Of course, there are drawbacks and failures. So during the last clashes in May 2021, the system shot down an Israeli Skylark drone manufactured by Elbit Systems. This has caused a great deal of concern in command circles, as this should not be happening again.
The radar and control center were supposed to correctly identify the drone, but for some reason they did not. The investigation in this case is still ongoing. The incident may result in attempts to develop robust miniature recognition systems similar to those used on aircraft to avoid similar errors in the future.
It should also be understood that the attacking party is constantly learning to defend its missiles, trying to find vulnerabilities in the system that could affect the effectiveness of the Iron Dome. Massive attacks have recently been reported to overload the system with a number of items to be disposed of. In addition, Palestinian groups are backed by external forces such as Iran and Muscovy, which are trying to get as much information as possible about each of Israel’s defense systems.
We do not know how the loss of one of the Tamir missiles that fell on Palestinian territory in 2019 will affect the reliability of the Iron Dome in the future. It can be assumed that interest in the remnants of this missile was shown by many countries that have not very friendly relations with Israel.
Is Iron Dome cost-effective?
If you compare the above prices for one Tamir missile with those used by the enemy, then at first glance it seems that Israel is in a losing position. However, such a calculation would be incorrect. Damage to the infrastructure that Israelis could suffer from such attacks would require repair that would cost much more than an interceptor missile. In addition, there are losses to the economy due to possible downtime in the event of damage to a key component of the infrastructure, as well as downtime after alarms that force people to seek shelter. The threat to airports, including international ones, is causing huge logistical problems due to changes in flight schedules, and the Israeli economy, which is heavily focused on foreign tourists, is also suffering.
We must also take into account the cost of medical care. How great would the losses be on the Israeli side if not for the Iron Dome? How many people will need specialized medical care with the support of the local health service for the rest of their lives and how much will it cost? Such questions are hard to answer.
Let’s also mention the psychological effect. The fact that there is such a system as the ‘Iron Dome’ gives the people of Israel a kind of pillow of security and peace. Israelis are aware that when they go to bed, the system is not asleep and will be able to catch most threats. Without it, the level of stress experienced by residents of the most vulnerable areas would certainly be higher. And how to convert such a factor into money?
That is, in general, the Iron Dome system is a cost-effective solution. In the long run, with the introduction of further improvements, such as batteries for laser weapons, its efficiency will increase and the cost of operation should decrease.
What is the future of Iron Dome?
Given the relatively high cost of each missile and the increasing intensity of fire, there is a need to look for alternative means to neutralize threats. This need is perfectly met by laser systems, which are already used as part of a lower level of protection called the ‘Iron Beam’.
As their power grows, so will their ability to destroy larger targets. High enough rate of fire will cope with attacks that could disable even such advanced defenses as the Iron Dome.
Another area where you can expect the development of the Iron Dome system is artificial intelligence. The battlefield management and data processing component already uses algorithms to assess the trajectory of the threat being tracked. This, as we have already said, hints the operators where the missile may fall and whether it should be neutralized. In the future, we can assume that the use of artificial intelligence will be further improved, and will help decide what is more rational to use against each target – Tamir missile, laser, or, for example, rapid-fire artillery.
It can also be assumed that the radar systems will be further modified to better cope with massive attacks. Subsequent modifications are likely to destroy as many targets as possible at one time, and will help to correctly identify objects in the air.
Does Ukraine need Iron Dome?
This question is quite complicated. The fact is that it is somewhat incorrect to compare the territories of Ukraine and Israel. To protect a particular city, such as Kharkiv or Kyiv, such anti-aircraft systems would certainly be useful. They are able to protect a small area, so they would also be effective in border areas. But such systems are quite expensive. In addition, the weapons of the orcs are clearly not the same as those of the Palestinian terrorists. Therefore, the issue of purchasing the Iron Dome is definitely not on time. We need anti-aircraft systems to fight missiles, planes and helicopters, and this is definitely not about the Iron Dome. But the idea is very interesting, and the experience of Israel should definitely be adopted, especially with such a neighbor from the north and east, and given the occupied Crimea, even from the south.
The war continues, but we will definitely win it, because we are defending our home, our land. Burn the invaders in hell! Everything will be Ukraine! Death to enemies!