Amid reports that the US military is considering purchasing Israel’s Iron Dome to plug a gap in its European defenses, the missile-defense system is on display in the US capital this week as part of the Association of the US Army (AUSA) annual meeting.Israel’s state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the main contractor of Iron Dome, and Raytheon, its US partner for the system’s production, are reported to be working to transform the Israeli interceptor into an American system to defend forward-deployed US forces. While the US has its THAAD anti-ballistic missile defense system designed to intercept and destroy short, medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase, it does not have any short-range air-defense solutions.According to Defense News, the US Army sees an urgent need for an interim solution to fill the gap in its defenses, especially in the European arena, to protect ground-maneuvering troops against an increasingly wide range of aerial threats, including short-range projectiles, until a permanent solution is put in place.In September, the US Army carried out a two-week long Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD) demonstration at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to evaluate which missile system would best serve this purpose.Iron Dome is reported as having gone up against three other options, including systems by Boeing and General Dynamics Land Systems’ specially armed Stryker vehicles.If the Americans decide to purchase the Israeli system, it would be fully produced in the United States by Raytheon with Rafael as a subcontractor.“The minute that the US decides to procure Iron Dome, we will transfer all the knowledge and production file to Raytheon,” Yosi Druker, head of Rafael’s Air Superiority Systems division, was quoted by Defense News as saying.
Designed to shoot down short-range rockets, the Iron Dome went into service in April 2011 with its first battery placed near Beersheba. It made its first interception, of a grad rocket fired from the Gaza Strip just days later.The Iron Dome is able to calculate when rockets will land in open areas, choosing not to intercept them, or toward civilian centers. It has since been used during two military operations against Hamas and, since its first deployment, has intercepted roughly 85% of projectiles fired toward Israeli civilian centers, changing the face of battle between Israel and her enemies.The Rafael-built system carries 24 pounds of explosives and can intercept an incoming projectile from four to 70 kilometers away and Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd., which produces the radar system for Iron Dome through its ELTA division, has reported sales of it to various armies around the world.A spokesperson for Rafael told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the company will “continue to work with our American partner Raytheon to promote it.”The three-day-long AUSA exhibition which opened on Monday will see several high-ranking US government officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, addressing the crowds and inspecting the latest industry products, including military technology produced by several Israeli defense companies.
Upgraded Iron Dome system tested in Feb. 2017 (courtesy: IDF)