During the 2006 conflict in southern Lebanon, about 25% of the Hezbollah-fired missiles struck populated areas in northern Israel. While Israeli security keeps a lid on where the latest Hamas and Jihadist missiles fired into southern Israel from Gaza are striking, the very few deaths reported in Israel – in the single digits so far – indicates that the first five batteries of the short-range Iron Dome missile defense system are being surprisingly efficient.
The Second Lebanon War, as it is called by Tel Aviv, cost 14.7 billion shekels ($3.8 billion) in damage and costs. Since then, Israel has invested 300 million shekels in research and development to stop that 25%, say officials at Rafael, Israel’s primary missile developer. That investment is to help ensure that Israel does not have to invade Gaza again. The cost of a day of operations inside Gaza is 1 billion shekels, they say, more than the cost of the missile program. That capability gives politicians the flexibility to not go inside with ground troops.
Israel funded the first two batteries of the Iron Dome system, which was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (missile and launcher) and Israeli Aerospace Industries (radar). The U.S. is funding an additional eight batteries in exchange for access to and a stake in the technology.has teamed with Rafael to market Iron Dome and the even more sophisticated David’s Sling intermediate altitude air defense missile.
As a backup plan, the Israeli government has authorized the mobilization of 75,000 army reservists. However, the reservists are seldom used for tip of the spear combat operations. They backfill units while the professional forces – special ops, paratroops, armored forces and specialist units like tactical air and artillery support – are used as penetrating forces.
The Iron Dome system’s ability to discriminate between dangerous missiles headed toward populated areas and those that are not is already saving Israel millions of dollars. At about $60,000 per missile (estimates range from $50,000 to $90.000), that means the Israeli Defense Ministry saved about $3.4 million in the first two days of attacks by not firing.
Overall, most of the rockets fired by Hamas fall to Earth just beyond the Israeli border after a short flight. Of those that manage to go deeper into the Israel, the percentage that have to be intercepted is actually higher than those fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon in 2006 and by Hamas from Gaza in 2009, Israeli analysts say.
Moreover, the precision of Hamas rockets has improved since they have started primarily using prepositioned, buried launchers rather than truck-mounted multiple launchers, which are placed with less-accurate launch coordinates.
Israeli Aerospace Industries’ Elta electronics division is a big player in advanced radars and other sensor technology that explain how theknows where to strike in Gaza.
“We are building the sensors to support our systems – everything that is receiving and transmitting – in the area of radar, electronic warfare and communications,” says Baruch Reshef, deputy director of group marketing. Those sensors allow the IAF to collect “electronic order of battle, network analyses, mapping emission and determine who is talking to who and where.”
The Iron Dome defenses are directed by the 167th Active Air Defense Wing headquartered at Palmachim AB, south of Tel Aviv. It also directs the Arrow and Patriot III air defense systems. It is a year and a half into an evolution from an anti-aircraft paradigm to an active air defense.
“Defense has become more complicated because of the numbers and categories of rockets and missiles involved,” says the wing’s commander. “The ballistic sky is split into two pieces, the upper and lower tiers. It presents a great challenge to sharing all the same information, detection cures, targeting data, [and] interception points as well as the debris and other aftereffects that follow an interception. The solution is a centralized command and control facility that manages, coordinates and synchronizes the two tiers.