Monday, November 19, 2012

Iron Dome: The technology that stops missiles like no other

 International news the last few days has been dominated with reports of renewed fighting between Isreal and Hamas.  Casualties are rising by the day as the two sides trade missiles and rockets.  At least 91 persons have been killed according to latest reports.  Tensions are rising as world leaders scramble to fashion last minute solution to the crisis before it spirals beyond control.
As the fighting continues, both sides voice fears about a full scale war.  According to Los Angeles Times, "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has signaled that a ground invasion could be imminent if cease-fire talks in Cairo falter. More than 45,000 reservists have been called up and troops are massing along the border area in southern Israel."
It is destroying about 90% of the rockets and missiles that Hamas, the Palestinian political party governing Gaza, is firing into southern Israel
One new technology that has been a feature of this latest uprising in the Middle East is the Iron Dome. It is the clear difference between the casualties in Hamas and Isreal.  Hamas fired 100 missiles on Israel Sunday, 30 of which Israel says it shot down.  "It is destroying about 90% of the rockets and missiles that Hamas, the Palestinian political party governing Gaza, is firing into southern Israel, Israeli officials say," reports Times magazine.

“In one of the recent exchanges, one of the batteries was 100% [successful]. That means, to me, that Iron Dome is capable of 100% [across the board] — I don’t think it was entirely a fluke,” Times quotes an Isreali official as saying. "The bottom line: the more rockets Hamas fires, it seems, the better at stopping them Iron Dome becomes," the magazine notes.
The system appears to be less effective at very close ranges. And the existence of Iron Dome seems to have prodded Hamas to increase the rocket launchings and expand its radius of attack to areas Israel would not have thought to deploy the missile battery, including Jerusalem
On the other hand, almost all missiles fired by Isreal have hit targets.  The Israeli military says its strikes are surgical, and are finding their targets. Attempts by Hamas to build and launch drone aircrafts is being checked by Isreal which clearly has the technology edge.
Isreal's oldest newspaper, Haaretz, gives insight into how the Iron Dome technology was developed.  "Engineers and weapons development specialists at Israel's military industries proposed the development years ago of rocket interception systems. The idea was not an original one. American Patriot missiles offered some protection to Israel, albeit with minimal success, from Iraqi Scuds during the Gulf War of 1991. And the Israeli Arrow missile was developed and produced in the two subsequent decades. The Israel Defense Forces also had missiles to counteract missiles directed at naval vessels.
It was possible to improvise a temporary solution to intercept some of the rockets, while at the same time investing in a more comprehensive response. But the defense establishment preferred to allocate funds to other operations, without understanding the effects that counteracting the rockets would have on the sense of well-being of the population and its influence on the ability to hold back from launching offensive operations, or at least limiting them.
It was only after the Second Lebanon War in summer 2006, when Israelis sustained thousands of rockets from Hezbollah in Lebanon that the Israeli government came to the realization that it was worth acting quickly and developing short-range and medium-range interceptor systems - Iron Dome against short-range rockets and Magic Wand against medium-range projectiles. Development was completed in record time, and with outstanding if not perfect results. Some rockets still get through the defenses and in effect there is no defense against mortar shells."
Principal developers of the Iron Dome tech - Rafael and Elta - are not public companies, but the success of this technology has substantially brightened their prospects should they decide to go public.
"Iron Dome batteries are not deployed in every area where rockets have been fired and don’t try to intercept the ones that are headed for open areas. The actual success rate of Iron Dome so far has been around 88 percent, according to officials," writes Daily Beast, but the figures, the publication notes, "
is astonishing for a system that Israel developed only recently—with generous U.S. financing—and that had its share of skeptics."
But the technology is probably not the game changer that some Israelis have suggested. As Daily Beast further stated, "the system appears to be less effective at very close ranges. And the existence of Iron Dome seems to have prodded Hamas to increase the rocket launchings and expand its radius of attack to areas Israel would not have thought to deploy the missile battery, including Jerusalem."
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