Iron Dome has been operational since March 2011

Iron Dome

Israel’s Combat-Proven Rocket Defence System

Iron Dome Defence System

Israel’s highly sophisticated Iron Dome technology has been safeguarding Israeli civilians since early 2011. Technically a combined C-RAM (Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar) and V-SHORAD (Very Short Range Air Defense) system, according to co-developer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Iron Dome ‘shields the skies from rockets and airborne threats, now and tomorrow’. Combat-proven, Iron Dome can be used at any time of day and has an all-weather capability: clouds, fog and other meteorological events are no problem for it whatsoever.

Operated by the Israeli Air Force, Iron Dome is the lower layer of a wider defence network that will ultimately also encompass Israel’s Arrow 2, Arrow 3 and David’s Sling systems. Currently, there are 10 Iron Dome batteries deployed across Israel - in time, up to five more may join them.

Iron Dome Night Launch

Iron Dome Origins

Iron Dome was evolved in response to military group Hezbollah’s persistent attacks on Israeli residents during the 1990s. The Israel Defence Forces realised the need for an effective new defence system – a need that, after July 2006, became all the more apparent. That month, approximately 4,000 Hezbollah rockets struck Northern Israel, causing 44 civilian deaths.

In February 2007, the Iron Dome programme was announced, with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems the nominated lead contractor. Iron Dome developmental approval was given by then-Israeli Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz. Three waves of US-funding ($200m, $70m and $350m, in 2010, 2012 and 2014 respectively) were thereafter supplied, helping get Iron Dome into frontline operation barely four years after work on it first started. In between, its Tamir interceptor missile underwent extensive flight-testing and several rounds of interception trials were performed, increasingly simulating a full-blown Hezbollah rocket attack.

March 2011 saw Iron Dome’s initial deployment take place. Just days later, on 7 April 2011, it was used to intercept Grad rockets, launched from the Gaza Strip, for the very first time. As just one measure of Iron Dome’s success, not long after this inaugural deployment, the system’s developers were awarded 2012’s Israel Defense Prize.

Iron Dome Interception

Iron Dome Capabilities

Iron Dome’s capabilities go beyond rocket and 155mm artillery shell interceptions. These aside, it can also intercept fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, precision-guided missiles and UAVs - a whole spectrum of airborne threats – and while its CRAM range is 43 miles (70 kilometres), Iron Dome is also effective against other objects up to an altitude of 32,800 feet (10,000 metres).

Iron Dome Features

Iron Dome features three distinct parts - its Detection & Tracking Radar, Battle Management & Weapon Control Element (BMC) and Missile Firing Unit (launcher). A standard Iron Dome battery comprises one of these radar units, one missile control unit and two or three launchers, all positioned near to each other. These systems together carry out a three-phased detection, categorization and strike process, with the radar tracking incoming weapons, the missile control unit calculating where they’ll land and the launcher sending up interceptor missiles to wipe the threat from the skies. Interception is programmed to take place over neutral areas, so any risk posed to civilians below by way of collateral damage is minimised and it is reported that just one Iron Dome battery can secure around 150 square kilometres of land.

Iron Dome Launcher

The EL/M-2084 Multi-Mission Radar used is, in manufacturer (Israeli Aerospace Industry subsidiary) Elta’s words, an ‘advanced sophisticated portable ground radar which performs rapid identification of the target, tracking it accurately and providing vital data to the weapons system for simultaneously handling and neutralizing threats.’ Boasting state of the art 3D AESA (Active Electronically Steered Array) components, this radar is not only portable but also air transportable (it can fit inside a C-130 Hercules, of which the Israeli Air Force has 18). Maximum operational range is 63 miles (100 kilometres) and – specialising in small-sized, high velocity objects - it can track up to 200 targets every single minute.

Once the Iron Dome’s radar has picked up an inbound rocket or shell, it quickly gets this information over to the Battle Management & Weapon Control Element. The BMC is staffed by five Israeli Air Force personnel including a commander and two interception officers, who decide whether the incoming threat should be countered or not. If it should, then a launch order is sent wirelessly to the launchers and the interception phase begins.

The entire Iron Dome operation, from start to finish, takes only minutes to complete.

Iron Dome Radar

Iron Dome Missiles

Each Iron Dome launcher accommodates 20 Tamir surface-to-air missiles, which were developed specifically for this application. Vertically-launched, the Tamir missile is 10 feet long, weighs 198.5 pounds and has a 43-mile range. Its key features include manoeuvrability-enhancing fins and EO (Electro-Optical) sensors. Expense-wise, at circa $50,000 apiece, Tamir far exceeds a typical Hezbollah rocket’s price – a scenario that’s seen much criticism fired Iron Dome’s way but is the cost of protecting civilians ever, essentially, too much? That’s the counter-argument Iron Dome supporters repeatedly send back.

Aerospace and defence contractor Raytheon has, since September 2014, been tasked with supplying Tamir missile components – one further part of the ongoing US-Israeli Iron Dome programme partnership. Other surface-to-air missiles in the Israeli Air Force’s inventory, besides Tamirs, include MIM-104 Patriots, MIM-23 Hawks and FIM-92 Stingers.

Iron Dome Operators

As of early 2016, Israel remains Iron Dome’s sole operator but several other nations have also expressed interest in using it. One is South Korea, which emerged as a potential Iron Dome operator in Summer 2014 but whether or not that still applies is presently unknown. India remains another possible Iron Dome operator. Having ruled the system out in early 2013, it has since shown renewed keenness.

While Iron Dome has been operational in Israel for the past five years, it saw extensive use during two periods in particular. The first was Operation Pillar of Defense, staged between 14 and 21 November 2012. This eight-day-long campaign saw 421 reported Iron Dome interceptions, with an overall 95 per cent success rate achieved. Then came Operation Protective Edge – the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict. 50 days-long, this operation involved no less than 735 Iron Dome interceptions and, here, the success rate was said to be 90 per cent.

Key Facts: Tamir Missile

Role: Interceptor missile
Length: 10 ft 0 in (3.05 m)
Maximum speed: Mach 2.2 (1,688 mph – 2,717 km/h)
Maximum range: 43 miles (70 km)
Weight: 90 kg (198.5 lb.) 
First launched: 2008


Iron Dome
Iron Dome night launch image copyright Israeli Defense Forces – courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Iron Dome interception image copyright Emanuel yelling – courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Iron Dome day launch image copyright REUTERS/Baz Ratner – courtesy Raytheon
Iron Dome launcher image copyright/courtesy Raytheon
EL/M-2084 Multi-Mission Radar image copyright US Missile Defense Agency – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Iron Dome footage courtesy Israel Defense Forces - courtesy YouTube


Related Links on Copybook - Iron Dome in the News

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