Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Could Israel's "Iron Dome" Make the Case for a Missile Defense Shield?


The last few days have been extraordinary in the Middle East to say the least.  Israel was attacked by a barrage of missiles fired from Gaza.  However, nearly all of those missiles were defeated by Israel's missile defense shield known as "Iron Dome".  Missile defense systems are nothing new and we've seen them work in a variety of theaters of operation.  Most recently, they were highly effective during the United States' invasion of Iraq where Patriot missile batteries went toe-to-toe with Scud missile launchers.

A recent article from Slate.com explains the breadth of that success:
Israeli officials are claiming that the shield is destroying 90 percent of missiles and rockets it aims at that have been fired into southern Israel by Hamas. This level of success is unprecedented compared with older missile defense systems such as the American-made Patriot model used during the 1991 Gulf War. Israelis have almost always suffered far fewer casualties than Palestinians have, but Iron Dome has made that disparity even larger. As of Monday, Israel has reported three casualties, all of which occurred during a temporary malfunction in the missile-defense system.
Credit: Voice of America; http://www.voanews.com/content/israel-iron-dome-passes-first-major-test-despite-some-weaknesses/1550087.html

To say the least, this is a huge boom for future missile defense deployments. Hamas has launched 1,147 rockets at Israel between 14 November 2012 and 20 November 2012. Israel has claimed to have shot down 90 percent of those missiles. Did I forget what makes this system so unique? With the exception of a minor glitch that occurred at the beginning of the hostilities, Iron Dome is reported to have been 90 percent accurate with 400 kills in its first few days of days of operation.

A typical battery includes a radar and three launchers, each holding 20 Tamir interceptors. It reportedly had a 100% success rate in tests prior to deployment.

 

This graph provides an idea as to the area Iron Dome has to cover and what it is supposed to counter.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/QassamsRange.jpg

Many argue this missile defense shield is a "game changer". There is a lot to say that it has. Hamas and Hezebollah have used these attacks in the past as leverage and to demonstrate their resolve to see the conflicts to the end. By "taking the wind out of their sails", Israel has certainly taken much of the "punch" out of Hamas' most potent psychological weapons.

Most telling is the language and support coming from the United States before the November attacks.  The U.S. House of Representatives stated in its FY-2013 Defense Authorization Act  which not only supported Iron Dome with a $680 million investment.  It went a step further by directing the Director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, to "explore any opportunity to enter into co-production of the Iron Dome system with Israel, in light of the significant U.S. investment in this system." You don't have to be an expert in missile defense technology to know why the US considers this an "investment". We want to develop our own to deploy in the States. Stop rolling your eyes. Given the cost and logistics of coordinating prevention, mitigation, and response to surface-to-air missile threats in the U.S., this has the potential for a lot of "traction" in certain circles.

Will this put an end to rocket attacks? Probably not. I say this because the technology behind these rockets is constantly evolving. Unless Israel can shore up the transportation/smuggling routes arms dealers use, then there will never be an end to such attacks. However, as Israel has convincingly demonstrated, their relative lethality can be greatly reduced by missile defense shields such as Iron Dome.

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