Iron Dome is an Israeli land-based mobile defense system that is designed to intercept short-range rockets and artillery. It was developed to provide an anti-missile defense system to counter rocket attacks emanating from the Palestinian Territories and Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon. The system contains three main elements: the ELM 2084 Multmission Radar (MMR), battle management and weapon control system (BMC), and firing units that employ Tamir interceptors from transportable launchers.
Iron Dome can detect rockets 4 to 70 km away and engage targets with Tamir interceptors to destroy targets inflight. Tamir interceptors are 3m in length, 0.16m in diameter, weigh 90kg at launch, and range 2 to 40 kilometers.1 A single Tamir interceptor costs around $100,000 to produce.2 The complete system costs around $100M per battery.3
The ELM 2084 MMR is a 3D AESA radar 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.”4 The ELM 2084 also serves as the fire control radar for Israel’s David Sling missile defense system.
Iron Dome can discern between rockets that threaten population areas and those that will fall harmlessly in open terrain.5 This capability is crucial for conserve interceptors when countering mass rocket attacks. Each Iron Dome battery can defend an area of 150 square kilometers. The system serves an important role in Israel’s multi-layered defense system as the bottom tier that protects Israel from short-range missiles, mortars, and rockets fired from Gaza or Lebanon
Iron Dome Development, Testing, and Fielding
Iron Dome completed its final series of testing in July 2010 and was fielded and declared operational 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
The Iron Dome batteries underwent upgrades between 2012 and 2014, 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 military-grade rocket 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 were targeted by the Iron Dome system.8 Of these, 735 were successfully shot down, a 90% success rate for intercepts.9
There were only a few Israeli civilian causalities during this conflict, mostly from mortar strikes.10 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.11 The “lack of Israeli casualties [during the 2014 conflict],” argued one U.S. defense expert, “suggests Iron Dome is the most effective, most-tested missile shield the world has ever seen.”12 The Defense Minister at the time, Moshe Ya’alon, noted, “…the Iron Dome system is saving lives and preventing enormous economic damage.”13
Unlike Israel’s other missile defense systems, Iron Dome was initially developed without U.S. aid, and Israel retained all technology rights. However, the United States provided funding to the system starting in FY2011, and, as a result of this support, the U.S. Congress called for greater technology sharing and co-production rights. Israel ceded to a co-production agreement in March 2014, essentially allowing for components of the system to be manufactured in the United States while also providing the Missile Defense Agency with access to previously proprietary technology. Rafael, the Israeli prime for Iron Dome, partnered with Raytheon to manufacture some of the system’s components in the United States.14 Currently, around 55% of the system’s components are manufactured in the United States.15
The United States may see benefits in terms of system interoperability. On April 14, 2016, the U.S. Army fired a Tamir interceptor from its developmental Multi-Mission Launcher (MML) at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.16
The Iron Dome system served an important role in protecting population centers from rockets, and other projectiles fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in 2014. During this time, the U.S. Congress passed the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Resolution (P.L. 113-145), which authorized $225M in extra funding for the Iron Dome. From FY2011 to FY2015, including these additional appropriations, the United States provided almost $1.3B to Israel for “Iron Dome batteries, interceptors, co-production costs, and general maintenance.” This includes appropriations of $205M in FY11, $70M in FY12, $194M in FY13, $460M in FY14, and $351M in FY15. .”17 The NDAA for FY2016 authorized “$41,400,000…to the Government of Israel to procure radars for the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system.”18