Iron Dome : The Protective Shield

Iron Dome : The Protective Shield

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Israel’s anti-missile defence system counters the threats posed by rocket attacks from across the border

Why the Need?
Since 2001, Israel, particularly its southern communities, have sustained more than 15,000 rockets, Qassam, Grad and others fired by Hamas, Hizbullah and other such organisations. In 2006, more than 4,500 rockets and missiles were fired into Israel by Hizbullah in the 33-day conflict that caused deaths of dozens of Israelis.

Challenges
Israeli industries were tasked to come up with a solution to protect urban areas from high-volume rocket fire. Rafael proposed an Active Defense System consisting of a system that would launch an interceptor at each rocket fired on the defended area. This programme was eventually approved by the IMOD and became what is known as ‘Iron Dome’. Full-scale development began in December 2007, and the system achieved its first operational intercept in April 2011, in less than three and a half years.
The challenges were concentrated in a triangle of cost, performance and schedule. As a rule, it is possible to minimise only two of these parameters, and at the expense of the third. In Iron Dome, there were difficult performance goals: a large threat set, 24/7 protection, and a large defended area. Rafael had a firm design-to-cost goal: If the interceptor costs too much, the enemy would be able to cause significant economic damage simply by firing large number of rockets. Finding a way to optimise all three parameters was not easy.

Iron Dome
It is an advanced defence system, designed for quick detection, discrimination and interception of rockets and mortar threats with ranges of up to and over 70 km and against aircraft, helicopters, UAVs and PGMs. The system is effective in all weather conditions including low clouds, rain, dust storms or fog. It provides robust, yet selective defence. Its ability to discriminate between threats headed towards the defended area and those that will fall into the sea and open field reduces costs and limits interceptor launches in vain.
If the estimated rocket trajectory poses a critical threat, a command is given within seconds and an interceptor is launched against the threat. The interceptor receives trajectory updates from the BMC via uplink communication. The interceptor approaches the target and uses its radar radar seeker to acquire the target and guides the interceptor within passing distance. The target warhead is detonated over a neutral area, therefore reducing collateral damage to the protected area.

A single launcher can protect a medium-size city from rockets and mortars. Iron Dome uses a unique interceptor with a special warhead that detonates the targets in the air within seconds. The system can handle multiple threats simultaneously and efficiently. The system includes the following components:

  • Mobile detection and tracking radar – Multi-Mission Radar (MMR)
  • Battle Management & Control Unit
  • Sensors
  • Mobile Missile Firing Unit (MFU) with 20 interceptors

It meets the following requirements:

  • All weather operation
  • Effective and selective handling of salvo threats aimed at the defended zone
  • Threat warhead is detonated on its trajectory
  • Threats are destroyed outside the defended area, during their flight.
  • Ignores targets designated outside the defended area zone
  • Capable of continuous operation daynight and in all weather conditions
  • The system can be connected to high echelon Air Situation Picture
  • Enables classification of target threat families
  • The battery with all its components is transportable and moveable
  • Interceptors are maintenance free with life cycle of 15 years

Result
In April 2011, Iron Dome became battle- proven after it successfully intercepted several Grad rockets that were fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel. Since then, Iron Dome has shot down more than 500 rockets. It was a major success during operation ‘Pillar of Defense’ in November 2012, in which it intercepted 421 rockets that were fired at southern and central Israel, with success rates of over 80 per cent (as reported by the Israeli Air Force).

The system has been modified numerous times based upon lessons learnt in operational use, and on new requirements. In January 2013, Rafael conducted further field tests to verify the system’s upgraded capabilities. The test was declared successful.