Iron Dome is an Israeli mobile missile defense system designed to intercept short-range rockets and artillery. It comprises the lowest tier of Israel’s missile defense architecture, intended to counter unguided rocket and drone attacks from the Palestinian Territories and Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon.
The system consists of three main elements: the Tamir interceptor and its launcher, the ELM 2084 Multmission Radar (MMR), and a battle management and weapon control system (BMC).
Iron Dome system description
The Iron Dome battery includes 3 – 4 launchers, a battle management system, and a fire control radar. Each launcher can hold up to 20 Tamir interceptors. As of 2012/2013, a complete battery costs approximately $100M to produce.1 Each Iron Dome battery can defend an area of up to 150 square kilometers against short-range missiles, mortars, and rockets. To conserve interceptors, the Iron Dome system can discern between rockets that threaten population areas and those that will fall harmlessly in open terrain.2
Iron Dome can detect and engage targets at ranges of up to 70 km.3 The system’s Tamir interceptor is 3 meters long, 0.16 m in diameter, and weighs 90 kg at launch. It uses a command datalink and onboard active radar seeker for guidance and uses a high-explosive blast-fragmentation warhead to destroy targets. The Tamir interceptor was initially estimated to cost $100,000 to produce, but recent estimates assert unit costs of roughly $40,000 to $50,000 each.4
The ELM 2084 MMR detects incoming targets and provides midcourse guidance for the Tamir interceptor. It is a 3D active electronically scanned array (AESA) that operates in the S-band frequency. According to the radar’s manufacturer, the ELM 2084 has a target capacity of “up to 1100 targets for air surveillance purposes.”5 The ELM 2084 also serves as the fire control radar for the Israeli David’s Sling missile defense system.
Development and operational history
Israel began developing Iron Dome in 2007, completed its final tests in 2010, and deployed its first units in 2011. According to reports, Iron Dome has intercepted over 1,500 targets between 2011 to April 2016.6
During a November 2012 conflict with Hamas, Israeli officials claimed that Iron Dome intercepted 85% of the 400 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip that were projected to hit strategic or civilian population centers.7
Between 2012 and 2014, Israel implemented minor updates to the system, and, at the start of the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict, nine batteries were operational, including two that were prematurely forced into service. Before the conflict, it was estimated that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad had stockpiled up to 10,000 rockets and mortar shells in Gaza.
Over the course of the summer, 4,500 rockets and mortars were launched into Israel. Around 800 were identified as threatening to population centers within Israel and targeted for interception.8Of these, 735 were successfully shot down, a 90% success rate for intercepts.9
Israel lauded the Iron Dome system as a “game-changer” that saved hundreds of lives. In contrast, during the 2006 Lebanon War, before Iron Dome was operational, Hezbollah launched 3,970 rockets into Israel. Of these, 901 landed in population centers, and 44 Israelis were killed.10
Since its fielding, Israel has continued software and hardware integration updates to Iron Dome. In November 2017, Israel successfully demonstrated a naval variant of the system named C-Dome, destroying multiple airborne targets in a live-fire test.11
In March 2021, Israel completed upgrades to Iron Dome to aid its engagement of missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. According to officials, Israel verified these capabilities in tests which included rocket and missile salvos and simultaneous drone attacks.12
By May 2021, Israel had 10 operational Iron Dome batteries and intercepted nearly 1,000 rockets launched during early fighting in Gaza.13 Near the end of the 2021 Israel-Palestine conflict, militant groups had fired over 4,000 rockets at Israel, with an estimated 20 – 33% falling short of Israeli territory.
During the crisis, officials stated that Iron Dome demonstrated a 90% kill rate against rockets selected for interception.14 Other analyses claim Iron Dome had intercepted 1,428 missiles out of 1,500 rockets approaching populated areas, achieving a 95% success rate.15 The fighting also marked the first occasion where the system intercepted incoming drones, destroying five drones launched from Gaza.16
While originally developed within Israel, the United States began contributing aid to the Iron Dome development program in 2011. In March 2014, Israel signed a co-production agreement with the United States, allowing U.S. manufacture of system components and increased access to Iron Dome’s technology. Roughly 75% of the Tamir interceptor’s components are manufactured in the United States.17
As of 2016, around 55% of the system’s components were manufactured in the United States.18 In August 2020, Rafael and Raytheon formed a joint venture to produce full Iron Dome interceptors in the United States.19
After the 2014 Gaza conflict, Congress passed the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Resolution (P.L. 113-145), authorizing an additional $225M in for Israeli Iron Dome procurement. From FY2011 to FY2015, the United States provided almost $1.3B to Israel for “Iron Dome batteries, interceptors, co-production costs, and general maintenance.” This included appropriations of $205M in FY11, $70M in FY12, $194M in FY13, $460M in FY14, and $351M in FY15.20
The United States’ 2016 National Defense Authorization Act appropriated “$41,400,000…to the Government of Israel to procure radars for the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system.”21 After the 2021 Israel-Palestine crisis, Congress and the Biden administration pledged additional foreign aid to replenish Tamir interceptors expended in the fighting.22
Iron Dome and IFPC
Following a Congressional requirement issued in fiscal 2019, the U.S. Army purchased two Iron Dome systems as an interim solution for its indirect fires protection capability (IFPC) program. Under IFPC, the Army is required to deploy a counter-cruise missile capability by fiscal 2023.23 By November 2020, the U.S. Army had activated two units to evaluate the system, and in January 2021, took delivery of its second Iron Dome battery, integrated on a U.S.-produced four-axle truck.24
Given Iron Dome’s incompatibility with the Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS), the Army has proposed modifying the system to integrate Tamir interceptors with IBCS-compatible radars and mobile command posts. This proposed configuration is expected to compete for the Army’s finalized IFPC procurement effort.25
- “Arrow Weapon System (AWS),” IHS Jane’s Land Warfare Platforms: Artillery and Air Defence 2012-13, 470-47.
- “Arrow Weapon System (AWS),” IHS Jane’s Land Warfare Platforms: Artillery and Air Defence 2012-13, ed. Christopher F. Foss and James C. O’Halloran (United Kingdom: IHS, 2013), 470-471 & Jeremy M. Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” Congressional Research Service, June 10, 2015, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf, 9-10.
- “Iron Dome System and SkyHunter Missile,” Raytheon Missiles & Defense, n.d. https://www.raytheonmissilesanddefense.com/capabilities/products/irondome; “Arrow Weapon System (AWS),” IHS Jane’s Land Warfare Platforms: Artillery and Air Defence 2012-13, 470-47.
- Mark Tran, “Iron Dome: Israel’s ‘game-changing’ missile shield,” The Guardian, July 9, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/09/iron-dome-gaza-israel-air-defence-missile; Shayna Freisleben, “Israel’s Iron Dome has blocked thousands of incoming rockets. Here’s how it works,” CBS News, May 19, 2021.
- Israeli Aerospace Industries, “ELM 2084 MMR,” IAI, https://www.iai.co.il/p/elm-2084-mmr.
- Barbara Opall-Rome, “Still No Sales for Israel’s Iron Dome,” Defense News, June 14, 2016, http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/show-daily/eurosatory/2016/06/14/still-no-sales-israels-iron-dome/85877004/.
- Barbara Starr, “Watching Israel’s missile defense,” CNN, November 20, 2012, http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/11/20/watching-israels-missile-defense/.
- Buddhika Jayamaha, “A Daunting Triangle: Turkey, the Kurds, and the ISIL Threat,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, CTC Sentinel, November/December 2014, Vol. 7, Issue 11, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/a-classical-analysis-of-the-2014-israel-hamas-conflict.
- Jeremy M. Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel.”
- Lazar Berman, “Israel’s Iron Dome: Why America is investing hundreds of millions of dollars,” AEI, September 24, 2012, https://www.aei.org/publication/israels-iron-dome-why-america-is-investing-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars/.
- Barbara Opall-Rome, “Israel declares operational capability for sea-based Iron Dome,” Defense News, November 27, 2017, https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2017/11/27/israels-iron-dome-system-deployed-on-ship-for-first-time/.
- “Israel announces upgrade of Iron Dome rocket defense system,” The Associated Press, March 16, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/israel-gaza-strip-middle-east-08ab5cba58221eb84848f13f8195bc76.
- Andrew England, “Israel’s Iron Dome keeps toll of rockets in check,” Financial Times, May 14, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/65b74c14-3ed7-4e4d-8fcf-f28520225d84.
- Nidal Al-mughrabi and Dan Williams, “Silos and saturation salvoes: Gaza rockets bedevil Israel,” Reuters, May 19, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/silos-saturation-salvoes-gaza-rockets-bedevil-israel-2021-05-19/; Tovah Lazaroff and Lahav Harkov, “Gantz orders seizure of Hamas terror items as Gaza borders remain closed,” The Jerusalem Post, May 24, 2021, https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/gantz-orders-seizure-of-hamas-terror-items-as-gaza-borders-remain-closed-668974.
- Arie Egozi, “US Talks With Israel About Buying More Iron Dome Systems,” Breaking Defense, May 21, 2021, https://breakingdefense.com/2021/05/us-talks-with-israel-about-buying-more-iron-dome-systems/.
- Ryan Pickrell, “Israel’s Iron Dome has been put to the test in more ways than one amid intense fighting with Palestinian militants,” Insider, May 20, 2021, https://www.businessinsider.com/israel-iron-dome-tested-by-intense-rocket-fire-other-threats-2021-5.
- Barbara Opall-Rome, “US-Israel teams ramp up interceptor builds,” Defense News, August 8, 2017, https://www.defensenews.com/smr/2017/08/03/us-israel-teams-ramp-up-interceptor-builds/; Jeremy M. Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” 9-10.
- Jen Judson, “Israeli Interceptor Launched From US System Destroys Target,” Defense News, April 20, 2016, http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/land/weapons/2016/04/20/israeli-interceptor-destroys-target/83294392/.
- Jen Judson, “Raytheon and Rafael to build Iron Dome in US,” Defense News, https://www.defensenews.com/land/2020/08/03/raytheon-and-rafael-to-build-iron-dome-in-us/.
- Jeremy M. Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” 9-10.
- National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, Pub. L. No. 114-92, 129 Stat. 1140-1142 (2015).
- “Pentagon chief confirms US will replenish Iron Dome,” Times of Israel, June 18, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/pentagon-chief-confirms-us-will-replenish-iron-dome-interceptors/.
- Jen Judson, “Here’s why the US Army is under pressure from Congress to counter rockets and drones,” Defense News, October 16, 2019, https://www.defensenews.com/digital-show-dailies/ausa/2019/10/16/heres-why-the-army-is-under-pressure-from-congress-to-counter-rockets-and-drones/.
- “MOD completes Iron Dome delivery to the U.S. Army,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, January 3, 2021, https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/innovativeisrael/economy/pages/mod-completes-iron-dome-delivery-to-the-us-army-3-january-2020.aspx.
- Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Iron Dome Heads For Key US Integration Test,” Breaking Defense, January 5, 2021, https://breakingdefense.com/2021/01/iron-dome-heads-for-key-us-integration-test/.