from the August 2010 issue

Iron Dome Destroys Missiles

Israel will deploy at least two of its homemade Iron Dome anti-missile systems by November, according to the country's Defense Ministry.

The decision was made after the final set of tests were successfully carried out.

Although the system is not without controversy at home, several countries, including India, are interested in purchasing it from Israel.

Other than its potential to enhance Israel's strategic edge, analysts believe the system has a far-reaching impact on the big picture of arms control and global stability.

Iron Dome is a mobile air defense system that is manufactured by Israel's Rafael Advance Defense Systems. The government company has a track record of producing highly regarded weapon systems including the Popeye surface to air missile, the Spike anti-tank guided missile and the Typhoon weapon system.

Iron Dome is Israel's answer to the threat of short-and medium-range rockets that can travel some 35 to 45 miles. Many of the rockets have fallen on communities and as far inland as Ashkelon. It is the final piece of the Israeli defense against aerial attack. It is seen as the last line of defense.

With the United States-Israeli Arrow as the main protection for the Jewish state. "The Iron Dome is an effective and innovative mobile defense solution for countering short range rockets and 155 mm artillery shell threats ... in all weather conditions, including low clouds, rain, dust storms or fog," according to specifications. "The system uses a unique interceptor with a special warhead that detonates and destroys any target in the air within seconds," it added.

The system identifies the launch of an artillery shell or rocket and then monitors its trajectory. The data is analyzed and a point of impact is established. If the target area poses a risk then an interceptor will be launched to take out the threat. This happens as quickly as possible to try to ensure the incoming warhead is destroyed over an area where there is less potential risk to those on the ground.

"Iron Dome's breakthrough is not the intercepting of missiles, but its new concept based on highly-discriminating command and control technology that automatically determines which threats to intercept and which to ignore all in 15 to 90 seconds," according to Barbara Opall-Rome, the Israel bureau chief of Defense News.

Indeed in recent trials, it is reported that the system was able to detect simultaneous launches from various directions and to determine which posed a real threat and which it could ignore.

One of the main points of contention about the Iron Dome is the cost of each anti-missile missile. Analysts estimate that one salvo could cost as much as $50,000, which for a small country in a war situation that would quickly become a huge sum.

This is countered by Israel's defense establishment, which maintains that the system could prevent wars from breaking out and the cost of each day of a military campaign is far higher than the upkeep of the Iron Dome.

Other critics suggest the system may prove ineffective against the Kassam rockets fired from Gaza, saying the distance and time it takes for the homemade rockets to reach Israel is too short for the Iron Dome. Some propose the use of laser technology instead, but Israel's Defense Ministry has always rejected that idea.

However, the system's backers say its advantages far outweigh negatives. Indeed U.S. President Barack Obama has put his full weight behind the program and what he described earlier this month as "Israel's special security needs."

In May, the White House asked Congress to approve a $205m. package to help Israel complete the manufacture and deployment of the Iron Dome. In so doing Obama's staffers said they understood the risk Israelis face both to the north and the south.

Iron Dome was developed following the war with the South- Lebanon-based Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. Israel sustained heavy rocket fire from positions just across its northern border, with some loss of life and considerable damage to property.

Throughout the last decade Israel also faced thousands of rockets fired on its southern towns from the Gaza Strip. In the main all the Israel Defense Forces managed to do was to put in place a warning system that gave residents a few seconds to run to their nearest bomb shelters. Experts believe the Iron Dome will change the face of the battle between Israel and its enemies just a few miles away in Lebanon and Gaza.

Israel hopes that the Iron Dome will not only prove a success at home but that it will also generate cash in sales to foreign governments. Early indications are that there is considerable interest overseas. India is among those who is interested in the system and already enjoys a close defense relationship with Israel.

"By developing, testing and ultimately deploying the Iron Dome in less than three years, Israel re-establishes itself as a technology powerhouse as well as a preferred supplier on the world market," added Opall-Rome

The Iron Dome is the latest in a series of missile-related programs unveiled around the world. It is viewed in the current thinking in Washington as a sea change in policy towards missile defense. "A great amount of U.S. technology is in the Iron Dome. Politically, missile defense is changing from the great undermining force wrecking arms control, to a capability that will receive much more official U.S. support in the future. Missile defense will be a cornerstone of all future arms control and stability," Bracken said.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report August 2010

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