'Israel's missile-defense system could crumble at the moment of truth'

Dr. Nathan Faber, an expert on anti-ballistic-missile defense, questions the efficacy of Israel's tiered-defense concept in an all-out war on several fronts, citing financial and operational reasons.

Iron Dome battery. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Iron Dome battery.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
In a piercing, informative and opinionated article based on data, Dr. Nathan Faber criticized the Israeli missile-defense concept ("tiered defense") this week. The conclusion of Dr. Faber's article, published on the Magen Laoref ("Homefront Shield") foundation's website, is that if Israel finds itself in an all-out war on several fronts facing enemies that are showering it with hundreds of missiles a day (perhaps over a thousand), this concept could crumble due to financial, operational and technological reasons.
The tiered-defense concept is based on different types of defense missiles to intercept the different variations of enemy projectiles in a number of ranges and altitudes ("interception tiers"). According to Dr. Faber's article, the Arrow 3 anti-ballistic-missile system (that is still under development) is designed to intercept Iranian Shahab missiles (that have a range of 1,300 km.), at an altitude of 250-300 km., hundreds of kilometers away from Israel's borders (over Jordan). In the future, Arrow 3 missiles will also have to intercept Sejil missiles, that have a range of over 2,000 km.
Arrow 2 missiles are designed to intercept mostly Syrian Scud missiles (Scud B, C and D) that are launched from a distance of 300-700 km. Arrow 2 can intercept missiles at an altitude of 30-100 km., over Israeli territory or over the West Bank.
The David's Sling defense system, that is also still being developed, is designed to intercept Syria and Hezbollah's tactical ballistic missiles (Fateh-110, M-600), that have a range of 200-300 km., at an altitude of 15 km. The different Patriot missiles, that failed to intercept Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War, are meant to be a final backup and intercept missiles at an altitude of 10-12 km.
Against artillery rockets (Grad rockets with a range of up to 40 km. and Iranian Fajr rockets with a range of up to 70 km.) Israel has the Iron Dome missile-defense system, that is designed to intercept rockets at an altitude of 2-3 km., "right overhead." As previously mentioned, Arrow 3 and David's Sling, that are still under development, will not appear in the battlefield in the next few years.
Dr. Faber is a doctor in the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at the Technion, who worked in the military industry for 30 years. In his last position there, he served as the chief scientist of the missile division. He worked for ten years at Wales, a company that advises the Air Force and Israel's security forces. Today he is an independent researcher, studying the planning and analyzing of anti-ballistic-missile systems.
In recent years, Dr. Faber has fearlessly and in an unbiased manner expressed opinions that may praise the technological achievements of Iron Dome developers, but questions the Israeli security forces' announcements of successful interceptions during the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza. In the past, Dr. Faber called for the protection of Sderot and towns on the Gaza border (that Iron Dome, contrary to initial promises of its Refael developers, cannot protect due to its technological limitations), even as a temporary solution, using the American Phalanx CIWS close-in weapon system for anti-ship missiles. Even now, Dr. Faber believes Israel's security forces need to add the Phalanx CIWS system to the tiered-defense concept.
In his article, based on unclassified sources, Faber calculated that in its next war, Israel could be threatened by some 800 ballistic missiles in Iran's possession, some 400 Syrian Scud missiles that are left in President Bashar Assad's possession (some of these missiles were used in the Syrian civil war), some 500-1,000 tactical missiles (Fateh and Fajr) that Hamas and Hezbollah possess, and more than 100,000 artillery rockets that Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah possess.
In Dr. Faber's assessment, about a third of the missiles and rockets launched towards Israel will be intercepted by the Air Force, a third will not launch due to malfunction, and a third will be on its way to hit its target. According to Dr. Faber, this data is established among IDF experts and in the intelligence community.
Regarding Shahab and Scud missiles, Faber says "we are talking about an arsenal of 1,000-1,300 ballistic missiles of all types. Not all of them will be launched and not all of them will hit their target. A reasonable assessment is that Israel's security forces will have to take care of at least a third of them, meaning about 400 missiles."
On tactical missiles Faber writes: "Since these are very precise missiles, the great majority of them will hit their target, meaning the tiered-defense system will have to intercept the great majority of these missiles."
Regarding artillery rockets, the assessment is that Hezbollah alone has 50-70 thousand rockets. When you add that to the Syrian rocket arsenal and Hamas's rockets, the number doubles. From that it appears the Iron Dome will have to deal with about 30 thousand rockets.
"How many interceptor rockets are needed to handle this massive threat?" Faber wonders. "To handle the ballistic threat, two interceptors are required to shoot down every ballistic missile. In addition to that, during a full military confrontation, Israel's security forces would undoubtedly make many mistakes, which means wasting interceptors. Therefore, for 400 ballistic missiles, Israel will need 800-1,000 interceptors. An Arrow interceptor (2 or 3) costs $3 million. So the cost of 'pulling the trigger' is 2.4-3 billion dollars. To intercept tactical missiles Israel will also need two interceptors. Since David's Sling's cost is around a million dollars, the total cost would be 1-2 billion dollars."
"To that we need to add the cost of deploying the defense system and the cost of the batteries, which could double the assessment. Against artillery rockets Israel will need 60 thousand Iron Dome missiles, each costing $100,000, which means a total of $6 billion. This cost does not include deploying additional batteries (a few additional hundreds of thousands of dollars)."
Dr. Faber's conclusions are in two main categories: financial and operational. Financially, during wartime, Israel will need interceptor missiles that, according to Faber, "cost more than $10 billion (35 billion shekels). In such a confrontation, Israel will undoubtedly use all of its defensive arsenal, and will have to invest a similar amount in restocking (a process that can last several years). Does anyone believe a venture of this magnitude makes sense? It is likely that no one believes in such nonsense."
In the operational category, Faber claims that "today, Israel is not protected from ballistic missiles and this protection's efficiency in the future is also in doubt."
Regarding Iron Dome, his assessment is that it has a 66% success rate, and perhaps even less, and not 85% as its developers Refael and Israel's security forces claim.
"The classic claim of the Iron Dome's supporters is: 'so what? 66% is better than zero. Any successful interception is pure gain because it saves human lives.' Really? Well, here's another point to think about: the Iron Dome does not save lives. What saves lives are the shelters and safe rooms that citizens escape to whenever there's a rocket attack."
This article first appeared in The Jerusalem Post's sister publication Sof HaShavua. Translated by Yaara Shalom.