With considerable fanfare unusual for the highly secretive Israeli military, Israel’s Defense Ministry announced on Monday that the “Iron Dome” counter-rocket artillery mortar system was ready for operational deployment. Iron Dome combines detection and tracking radars with vertically launched guided interceptor missiles to blow out of the air incoming Katyusha rockets, which Hezbollah rained down on northern Israel in summer 2006, as well as smaller mortar rounds, launched with some frequency from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns.
The first two Iron Dome batteries will be deployed in November, the ministry said. Iron Dome has been in development for years, but was fast-tracked after the 2006 Lebanon War and the Gaza Strip war against Hamas 18 months ago. It is supposed to form the lowest level of a multi-tiered defensive system, targeting rockets, mortars and artillery rounds out to 70 kilometers; the Arrow anti-ballistic missile would form the top tier and tackle Scuds and the like.
An article in Israel’s Haaretz quotes an anonymous defense official gushing over the system’s performance in the recent tests:
Iron Dome, he said, when "faced with a volley of Grad-type Katyushas, fires a counter-volley and the interceptors are required to select and intercept specific Grads in this flying pack. It looked impossible, but they did the impossible," he said. "Every missile picked the specific Grad it was asked to select and destroyed it. There's no doubt this is historic."
The Obama administration committed some $205 million to the system’s development this year. "Iron Dome fills a gap in Israel’s multi-tiered defense system,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro, speaking at Brookings earlier this month. “Israel has conducted thorough tests of Iron Dome components and we’ve conducted an evaluation of our own. We are confident that Iron Dome will provide improved defense for the people of Israel."
Yet, the IDF is reluctant to buy it, grumbling over the cost of each Iron Dome intercept, estimated at nearly $50,000, compared to the estimated $500 cost of a Palestinian rocket. Press reports put Iron Dome development costs at $250 million, with each battery costing about $50 million.
Haaretz says IDF deputy chief of staff Benny Gantz was impressed with the Iron Dome tests, but thinks other countries should pick up the tab for the system, rather than have it come out of the IDF’s budget.
-- Greg Grant