The successful interception of two rockets fired at the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon in early April by the Iron Dome short-range missile defence system has been a key milestone for the system’s implementation. As defpro.com reported in April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented after the system’s first operational use: “We have deployed [the Iron Dome batteries] in the last two weeks without actually testing them in laboratory conditions… [and] they have so far worked very well”.
Although Israeli officials repeatedly emphasise that the system has limitations and cannot provide overall protection, Iron Dome’s first operational success has convinced the government. In an interview with the daily Haaretz newspaper published on Monday, Israeli Defence Ministry director-general Major General Udi Shani confirmed that the country plans to invest approximately $1 billion in the system’s continued development and in the production of additional batteries.
“We are talking about (having) 10-15 Iron Dome batteries. We will invest nearly $1 billion in this. This is the goal, in addition to the $205 million that the US government has authorised,” Shani told the Israeli newspaper. This will support Israel’s effort to deploy a multi-layered missile shield against a variety of threats. This approach further includes the US-Israeli Arrow Mark III development project for a long-range ballistic missile defence (BMD) system and Rafael’s David’s Sling (or Magic Wand) medium-range system. According to Shani, the latter will be equally funded with another $1 billion over the next five years and is scheduled to become operational by 2012.
Shani further explained that the US funding covers four additional batteries. The exact number of batteries ordered from Haifa-based manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd will depend upon the chosen “mix” of batteries and interceptor missiles within the multi-layered missile defence concept. However, Shani emphasised that, despite the still ongoing development and trial process, first procurement contracts are intended to be awarded “within a few months.”
Rafael develops and manufactures the Iron Dome elements in collaboration with ELTA Systems, a subsidiary of the Israel Aerospace Industry, as well as the IDF. The system comprises a radar system built by ELTA, a control center, and interceptor missile batteries built by Rafael. The interceptor missile, dubbed Tamir, is equipped with electro-optic sensors and several steering fins, offering high manoeuvrability. Each interceptor is estimated to cost between $35,000 to $50,000.
The Iron Dome radar detects and identifies incoming rocket or artillery shell launches and monitors their trajectory. The target data is transmitted to the Battle Management & Weapon Control (BMC) for processing. The threat’s trajectory is then analysed and the expected impact point can be determined. If the estimated rocket trajectory represents a critical threat, a command is given within a fraction of a second and an interceptor is launched against the threat. The interceptor receives constant trajectory updates from the BMC via uplink communications, approaches the target and then uses its radar seeker to acquire the target and guide itself within passing distance of the target. The threat is then eliminated in mid-air, well away from the protected area.
The expensive missile defence system might also pour foreign money into Rafael’s coffers in the upcoming years, as the Israeli defence official confirmed that there is foreign interest in the system. Five countries have expressed their interest in Iron Dome since its first successful operational use in early April, according to Shani.