Iron Dome, Israel’s premier missile defense system, has played a particularly crucial role in the Israel–Hamas War. The air defense equipment has fended off attacks from the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which launched a surprise barrage of attacks on October 7, 2023. Iron Dome has protected citizens amid the rapidly developing conflict in the region.
What is Iron Dome?
Iron Dome is a mobile all-weather air defense system of Israel. Also known as “Kippat Barzel” in Hebrew, the system is designed to defend Israeli population centers by intercepting the trajectory of short-range rockets within 43 miles (70 km). It fires guided missiles against upcoming threats and destroys them in mid-air.
Israel assures that Iron Dome’s structure only allows for the capability to defend its populated areas and critical infrastructure. The missile defense system is never used for the purpose of attacking and retaliating, posing no threat to people and infrastructure.
Who developed the Iron Dome?
The development of an air defense system for Israel was initially conceived in the early 2000s to ensure its national security in the region. In 2006, the creation of this defense equipment, named Iron Dome, was granted to main contractors, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries.
The contractors began Iron Dome’s development in 2007 and conducted several tests in 2008 and 2009. The first Iron Dome battery was deployed in 2011 and has since undergone several upgrades over the years. Funding primarily came from the Israeli government, as well as various sources, including a $3 billion investment from the United States government.
The U.S. funding in the development of the Iron Dome
The U.S. commits to a strategic partnership with Israel to strengthen its military arsenal. Aside from funding the development of the Iron Dome, the U.S. produces approximately 55% of the air defense system’s components. It contributes significantly to the domestic defense market by bringing more jobs to American soil.
How does Iron Dome work?
Iron Dome is one of the most effective air defense systems in the world, displaying up to a 97% success rate in deflecting missiles and artillery shells. The air defense system is equipped with three components: radar, a command-and-control system, and an interceptor.
Iron Dome’s radar detects incoming missiles over distances of 2.5 to 43 miles (4-70 km). Once the radar detects any potential threat, it collects and communicates data, including the object’s location, direction, and speed. These data are sent over to a command-and-control system, which determines the next set of actions.
Iron Dome’s command-and-control system uses the continuous stream of data from the radar to determine the level of threats, calculate the missile’s trajectory, and assess the most appropriate way to respond to them. For example, the command-and-control system can easily calculate it has around one minute to respond to missiles with speeds of 3,280 feet per second.
The third component of the Iron Dome, the interceptor missile, is fired to respond to counter the incoming missiles. These interceptor missiles, called Tamir, have supersonic abilities, heat-seeking sensors, and proximity fuses. Tamir missiles can get very near the missile and explode close to it to disable its strike capabilities.
What are the limitations of the Iron Dome?
Although Israel’s Iron Dome has been very effective, it has a number of limitations. For starters, Iron Dome can only protect 60 square miles of land (155 sq. km) around the strategically important sites. Outside this project range, the air defense system ignores the missiles and allows them to strike on land.
In addition, the Iron Dome is very expensive. According to the Center for Strategic International Studies analysis, each battery costs around $100,000 to produce, with each missile costing up to $60,000. Adding maintenance and upgrades to this equation, Iron Dome can easily total billions of dollars.
Due to the staggering price tag, Israel only has ten Iron Dome batteries in operation across the country. Each battery contains three to four launchers, while each launcher contains 20 Tamir interceptors. Its limited number can easily be overwhelmed against substantial quantities of missile attacks.
How does the Iron Dome’s limitations fare in the Israel–Hamas War?
On the morning of October 7, 2023, Israelis awoke to Hamas’ bombardment of missile attacks. The Israeli Defense Force estimates that 2,500 rockets were fired, although Hamas claims that over 5,000 rockets were fired in the initial raid. Regardless, the Iron Dome should easily handle missile attacks without causing casualties.
However, the sheer number of missiles fired by Hamas was too much for the Iron Dome to handle. The inaccuracy of these attacks also posed a challenge to the air defense system’s calculations in the trajectory and impact on populated areas. Israel’s surprise at Hamas’ barrage of attacks overwhelming the Iron Dome does have reasonable grounds.
In their previous encounters, Hamas fired anywhere between 192 to 312 rockets at Israel. While the number has increased to 470 missiles in the first 24 hours of their May 2021 clash, it’s still far off from the numbers seen on October 7. Moreover, this overwhelming quantity of rockets was fired during the first 20 minutes of the conflict.
What have been the developments since the Israel–Hamas War started?
Israel didn’t sit idle against attacks from Hamas. The nation retaliated by employing a number of infiltrations into Hamas, intercepting its intel, weapons, and workforce from its militant group supporters in the region. Additionally, Israel has enforced a “complete siege” over the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is headquartered.
Tensions from both factions date back several decades. A series of attacks and counter-attacks had escalated into full-on fighting before, which had been vaguely resolved by ceasefires. Instituting peace for this complex conflict is a colossal duty that can only be accomplished by addressing all relevant affairs in religion, culture, beliefs, traditions, and more.
What is the U.S. commitment to Israel amid Hamas attacks?
The United States has long considered Israel a major non-NATO ally, making the war a critical foreign concern for the nation. The U.S. is committed to ensuring the sovereignty of the only truly democratic country in the Middle East, a region historically shrouded in conflicts, turmoils, and disagreements.
For the Israel–Hamas War, the White House is replenishing the stocks of interceptor missiles for the Iron Dome. The additional supplies should help the nation sustain its air defense system capabilities to defend its borders. It is a testament to the U.S.–Israel relations to provide assistance during times of need.
Strategic alliance between the United States and Israel
The strategic alliance between the United States and Israel dates back to the end of World War II. Whether in war or peace, both nations collaborate to strengthen their relations through military weapons, foreign relations, economic development, and more.
Since 1945, the United States has allocated almost $10 billion to Israel’s missile defense systems. In 2016, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by then-President Barack Obama to provide Israel with $38 billion in military aid in the span of ten years. This includes $5 billion to build air and missile defense systems, covering various works for the Iron Dome.
In addition, the U.S. Army purchased two Iron Dome batteries for itself, with one currently deployed to Guam. Iron Dome’s developer, Rafael, has fostered cooperation with Raytheon Technologies to create the SkyHunter system to expand the air defense capabilities of the United States and its allies.
What is the future for air defense systems?
Iron Dome is one of the best air defense systems in the world, but it’s still overwhelmed when taunting escalates into full-on attacks. Regardless of how effective the system is, there are some limitations it just can’t overcome. For this reason, it’s important that nations must consistently innovate and adapt to the most pressing challenges during war.
Israel is already expediting the testing and development of the Iron Beam, designed to work in conjunction with the Iron Dome. It shoots fiber lasers at the target to destroy smaller projectiles. Once deployed, Iron Beam boosts the nation’s air defense system, which includes low to mid-range, upper-atmospheric, and exo-atmospheric projectiles.
Moreover, the challenges displayed in the Israel–Hamas War demonstrate the limits of even the top-of-the-line air defense systems. Most likely, nations, especially global superpowers such as the U.S., the U.K., China, Russia, Germany, and France, are to prioritize developing and upgrading their air defenses to defend themselves against the most overwhelming attacks.
Join the Army Acquisition Priorities: Balancing Readiness and Modernization Forum to discuss the service branch’s future acquisition of weapons and warfighting capabilities.