November 21, 2012
By Bill Smearcheck, JINSA Policy Associate
The performance of the revolutionary Iron Dome system in the ongoing defense of Israel from Hamas rocket attacks, dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, has been so extraordinary as to be considered by all but the most hardline critics to have proven the efficacy of missile defense. By November 20, six days since Hamas dramatically increased the volume of rocket fire against Israel, 340 intercepts had been made, with the Iron Dome system achieving a greater than 80 percent success rate. For Israel, this capability not only saves lives but also provides the government with precious time to contemplate a response to each attack.
Iron Dome's proven effectiveness has greatly increased expectations that it will be a popular product on the world market and has drawn considerable attention to possible co-production in the United States.
Developed by the Israeli firms Elta, mPrest Systems, and Rafael, the relatively low-cost Iron Dome system (estimated to be $85,000 per Tamir interceptor missile and $20 million per battery), enjoyed an unprecedentedly rapid development cycle going from drawing board to operational system in five years.
Created to intercept rockets with ranges from 2.5 to 44 miles, Iron Dome is able to selectively engage incoming rockets and mortar and artillery rounds determined by the system to be headed for civilian population centers or national assets.
"Since we are talking about hundreds and even thousands of rockets that we have to deal with, we cannot intercept each one, and actually we don't need to," Lt. Col. Meyrav Davidovitz, Israeli Missile Defense Organization Liaison Officer, told a Washington, DC audience gathered at the Heritage Foundation earlier this month to discuss policy implications and future prospects, including potential U.S. co-production of the Iron Dome system. Such selective engagement keeps operating costs down and preserves the maximum number of interceptor stock for emergency situations, she said.
Iron Dome's affordability and effectiveness has had an enormous impact on both the United States government and the American aerospace and defense community. Congress increased U.S. assistance to allow Israel to field additional Iron Dome batteries after the system proved itself highly successful at intercepting Hamas rockets from its first in April 2011 through mid-2012.
At the end of July 2012, a new tranche of $70 million in U.S. support funds was sent to Israel to speed up the fielding of additional batteries intended to cover the Lebanon border as well as Gaza and Sinai. $190 million in Israeli government funding was recently approved; the ongoing defense of Israel from Hamas rocket attacks serving as an impetus for the additional procurement.
Support within Congress was made palpable by the recent insertion of language into the not-yet-approved FY-2013 Defense Authorization Act endorsing potential coproduction with Israel. The House Committee on Armed Forces wrote into the National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2013 that the Director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, "should explore any opportunity to enter into co-production of the Iron Dome system with Israel, in light of the significant U.S. investment in this system." This would likely entail joint research with American firms, facilitating improvements in the Iron Dome interceptors. The authorization bill would also allocate an additional $1 billion to support Iron Dome and David's Sling, a medium layer missile defense system. In the Israeli missile defense architecture, Iron Dome covers the low level, short-range threats, David's Sling handles the medium level threats, and the Arrow system covers the upper-tier threats.
Back in 2010, in recognition of the system's capability, the United States government agreed to fund Israel's acquisition of four additional Iron Dome batteries along with additional interceptors with an allocation of $205 million. This support expanded Israeli production capacity and expedited the deployment of the Iron Dome's components, improving the overall effectiveness of the system.
Davidovitz explained to the audience of policy professionals, Congressional staff and Pentagon analysts, that, "Terrorist organizations around the world have the same capabilities as Hamas and Hezbollah, making the Iron Dome useful to all nations."
American acquisition of Iron Dome technology is "inevitable," asserted Randy Jennings, a defense consultant and former congressional staffer. He told the audience that it would fulfill America's future and current military defense needs in theaters similar to Afghanistan, as well as provide a proven system during a time of strained defense budgets.
Davidovitz said that, "if the U.S. decides to produce the system for its own needs, a big part of the production would be in the U.S."
A domestic endeavor would likely include R&D on improvements to the system, as well as the production missile batteries that comprise of a rocket launcher, radar, and battle management and control modules, as well as interceptors, Jennings said. Iron Dome coproduction would benefit not only the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship, by lowering the cost per unit for both countries and promoting closer integration within the alliance, but could be expected to provide a boost to the American economy.