The conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in
Gaza has meant a test of Israel's missile defenses, a system called the "Iron
Dome," which was built to protect Israel from short-range,
unguided rockets on ballistic trajectories. Unlike it's name implies, the Iron Dome is not an actual dome, but a small, mobile arsenal that consists of a radar unit and typically three launchers capable of deploying missile interceptors and missiles. It was up in running for the first time on March 27, 2011.
It works when radar picks up the signal of an incoming rocket — most of which are unguided — within an approximately 40-mile radius.
The information is sent to a control center on a truck and operators check the
trajectory of the rocket. If it's headed to a populated area or a military target, an
Iron Dome missile, called a Tamir, is fired. This missile is guided and therefore more accurate than the attacking missile. A solider programs the Tamir with
the incoming rocket's trajectory and then guides it with the help of radar. When the Tamir reaches the rocket, it detonates,
There are currently five batteries of Iron Dome missiles
deployed. As of this past weekend, the Israeli military reported that they had taken
out hundreds of incoming rockets. Those that were headed to unpopulated areas
were allowed to strike.
Iron Dome was developed by three Israeli companies: Rafael
Advanced Defense Systems built the Tamir missile. Here's a promotional video that shows how the system works. Elta, an Israel
Aerospace Industries subsidiary, designed the radar. Impress developed the
command and control systems.
Building Iron Dome was financed largely with aid from the
United States, amounting to $310 million so far and another $610 million over the next
three years, according to The New York Times.
One issue with the system is the high price tag. Each Tamir cost up
to $50,000, while the typical Qassam rocket launched form Gaza is less than
$1,000. That means that Palestinians can launch a lot more rockets at much less
expense. Even if Israel were to deploy many more batteries, it's possible the
Palestinians could fire enough rockets to simply overwhelm the interceptors.
The video below shows the system in action during a recent attack.
Photo: The Israeli army deployed a fifth Iron Dome anti-missile
battery near Tel Aviv on Saturday after rocket barrages were launched at
the city amid Operation Pillar of Defense. The IDF said the battery is
estimated to have higher interception abilities than the previous four
systems already in use, and includes an improved radar and upgraded
interception software, enabling the protection of a larger radius.