Iron Dome | Israel’s missile defence shield

The highly effective missile defence system shot down many rockets fired by Hamas on October 7, but some of them landed in populated areas

Updated - October 15, 2023 11:24 am IST

Published - October 15, 2023 01:37 am IST

On the morning of October 7, around 06:30 local time in Israel, air raid sirens went off warning citizens of an aerial attack. Such instances have had occurred in the past. However, this time it was different — this was a multi-pronged attack by Gaza-based militant group Hamas from land, sea and air.

Around 2,200 rockets were fired towards southern and central Israel, according to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Many of them were shot down by ‘Iron Dome’ defensive shield, while some landed in populated areas.

Iron Dome is a short-range anti-rocket, anti-mortar, and anti-artillery system with an intercept range of 2.5 to 43 miles and was developed by Rafael Advanced Defence Systems of Israel, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS). Israel has at least 10 Iron Dome batteries deployed throughout the country, each designed to defend a 60-square-mile populated area and can be moved as threats change, it noted.

Iron Dome’s targeting system and radar first track the trajectory of incoming projectiles and are designed to fire its Tamir interceptors only at those which are likely to land in populated areas or important areas/targets. In the past, Israel has put Iron Dome’s interception rate at as high as 97%.

However, there is still no reliable information on the system’s interception rate from the current conflict. Iron Dome’s interception rate may have remained constant compared to previous conflicts, with the successful strikes due to the high number of rockets fired, wrote Ben Barry, an expert at the British think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies in an online analysis titled ‘The Hamas attack and Israeli military options’. “It also seems possible, however, that the high number of rockets fired and their launch frequency overwhelmed the system and degraded its interception rate.”

Layered air defence

Israel has a four-layered air defence network to tackle a range of projectiles, short-range mortars, rockets and long-range ballistic missiles. These comprise of the Iron Dome (short range), David’s Sling (low to mid-range), Arrow II (upper-atmospheric), and Arrow III (exo-atmospheric), according to a CRS report ‘U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel’ released in March. “In addition to these existing systems, Israel, the U.S. Missile Defence Agency (MDA), and various private defence contractors are working on next generation defence systems, such as Arrow IV90 and various ground and air-based laser systems, including Iron Beam,” it noted.To date, the U.S. has provided nearly $3 billion to Israel for Iron Dome batteries, interceptors, co-production costs, and general maintenance, according to the CRS. The U.S. began financially supporting Israel’s development of Iron Dome in 2011.

A co-production agreement signed between Israel and the U.S. in March 2014 enables manufacture of Iron Dome components in the U.S. Under a joint venture ‘Raytheon Rafael Area Protection Systems’, set up in 2020 between Rafael and Raytheon of the U.S., Tamir interceptors (the U.S. version is called SkyHunter) are manufactured at Raytheon’s facility in Tucson, Arizona, and elsewhere, and then assembled in Israel. Israel also maintains the ability to manufacture Tamir interceptors within Israel.

The U.S. Army has procured two Iron Dome batteries from Rafael at a cost of $373 million. Currently, the U.S. Marine Corps is evaluating Iron Dome to fulfil its ‘Medium Range Intercept Capability’, the CRS notes.

Israel has extensive presence in the Indian military ecosystem, especially in air defence. In the past, Iron Dome was pitched to India to tackle threats from across the Line of Control (LoC), especially by terrorist groups. However, it did not fructify as India does not face such extremely close range threats. Instead, the Indian military had expressed interest in the Arrow system. Eventually, India procured some air defence elements and radars to take forward its indigenous Ballistic Missile Defence system.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, Ukraine has repeatedly sought Israeli-made weapons, including the Iron Dome. “Everyone in Israel knows that your missile defence is the best... And you can definitely help us protect our lives, the lives of Ukrainians, the lives of Ukrainian Jews,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in March 2022, addressing the Israeli Knesset by video.

Both the continued efficiency of Iron Dome, as adversaries adopt new tactics, as well as how the heavily fortified perimeter wall was breached extensively on October 7 without being detected will be analysed threadbare for some time to come.

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