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(photo credit: AP [file])
Following the successful interception last week of mock Katyusha rockets, the air force is considering moving up the establishment of an Air Defense Battalion to operate the short-range Iron Dome missile defense system to the end of 2009. The battalion was initially slated for establishment in 2010.
The Iron Dome, under development by Rafael Defense Systems, is slated to become operational sometime in 2010 and to be capable of intercepting short-range Kassam and Katyusha rockets fired by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon.
The system was successfully tested last week and intercepted incoming rockets similar to Kassams and short-range Katyushas. The Iron Dome uses an advanced radar that locates and tracks the rocket that is then intercepted by a kinetic missile interceptor.
The new battalion will be part of the IAF's Air Defense Division, which operates the Arrow 2 defense system, and will also - at a later stage - operate the David's Sling which is being developed by Rafael and Raytheon to intercept medium-range enemy missiles.
Prototypes of the Iron Dome will likely be supplied to the new battalion in the coming months. The battalion will then commence training with the systems as well as formulating a doctrine for its operation.
Defense officials said that the hundreds of rockets that were fired into Israel during Operation Cast Lead in January assisted scientists from Rafael and the Defense Ministry's Mafat Defense Research and Development Directorate in improving the system.
"Usually these barrages are done in a computerized simulation which takes longer," a senior defense official explained. "The operation in Gaza and 800 rockets fired into Israel allowed the developers to make improvements to the system in faster." Earlier this month Brig.-Gen. Danny Gold, head of R&D at Mafat, said that work on the Iron Dome had reached its "final stage" and was running "ahead of schedule" at a tenth of the cost of similar defense systems.
The air force has also begun searching for locations along the Gaza border that will be used as bases for the system, which includes a launcher and radar system. After it completes the deployment of the system along the Gaza border, the IDF will begin deploying the system along the northern border with Lebanon.