Army Plans Next Steps for Iron Dome Missile Defense
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. photos
The U.S. Army has adopted Iron Dome, the Israeli missile defense system that gained a strong reputation for its performance in the Gaza Strip.
The system was first deployed in 2011 and has provided protection against unmanned aerial vehicles and missile threats to Israel. Equipped with the Tamir missile, Iron Dome has since undergone regular upgrades. The system is made by Rafael Advanced Defense and has a 90 percent success rate, according to the company.
The technology will be filling the role of the U.S. Army’s interim indirect fires protection capability. Under pressure from Congress, the service was mandated in the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to purchase the missile defense systems while the service searches for a more permanent solution for its cruise missile defense gap.
The Army received the first of its two Iron Dome purchases at the end of September, with the second slated for the “near future,” according to Rafael.
“In the coming year, the Iron Dome system will complete 10 years of operational activity, with over 2,400 interceptions,” Daniel Gold, head of the Israeli Missile Defense Organization in the Directorate of Defense Research and Development in the Ministry of Defense, said in the announcement of the delivery. “The very fact that we are handing over the first battery, a year after the agreement was signed, is an achievement in itself.”
In November, the Defense Department announced that two air defense artillery batteries at Fort Bliss, Texas, will be testing and evaluating Iron Dome. The units will be converted from a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery and be funded with resources from the Army Air Defense Artillery School, according to the statement. The Army plans on deploying the first system by late 2021.
“This interim stationing decision will support critical test, evaluation and integration activities, which are prerequisites to any future deployment or stationing decision,” the Defense Department said.
The service plans to decide on a location for Iron Dome once the product reaches operational deployment capability. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., in May 2020 suggested to then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper that the Army deploy the system to U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility in the Middle East.
“As tensions continue to rise between the U.S., Iran and Iranian proxies, it is imperative that we deploy capabilities to protect our military and civilians on the ground in the region,” Boozman said in a letter. “I believe deploying one of the Iron Dome batteries to the Centcom theater augments those efforts and enhances our capability to neutralize any direct threat to our deployed service members.”
U.S. policymakers have had an enduring interest in procuring the system, with the Obama administration providing funds to Israel to speed its production. In April, 23 lawmakers issued a letter to Esper calling for an Iron Dome deployment plan.
Legislators “remain deeply concerned with the immediate threat to U.S. military and civilian personnel and facilities in the region,” the letter stated. “If we do not address this threat now, we fear the consequences will be even more severe.”
Although Iron Dome is currently marked as an interim indirect fires protection capability solution, Pini Yungman, executive vice president and head of Rafael’s air-and-missile defense division, said the system is also in the running to become a permanent part of the Army’s portfolio.
The company will be participating in a demonstration at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, in 2021, he noted.
“We will know probably in the end of , if Iron Dome will be … the next Army system to defeat UAVs and the rockets and short-range missiles, ballistic missiles, etc.,” he said. “I’m sure that after the demonstration, the Army will make a decision.”
Rafael and U.S.-headquartered Raytheon are also working on a U.S. version of the Tamir missile dubbed SkyHunter.
“We can say that SkyHunter [is] a name for the American Tamir with small adjustments, but we didn’t get detailed requirements,” Yungman said. “We know that it’s not a technical challenge, we know that it will not cause any damage to the performance.”
Sam Deneke, Raytheon’s vice president of business execution for land warfare and air defense, said the cost of each SkyHunter missile is likely to be similar to that of the Tamir and that the design has yet to be finalized.
“The elements of the missiles are very, very similar,” he said. “From a cost perspective, it likely will be very much in the same neighborhood of what the Tamir missile costs at this point.”
Rafael and Raytheon also plan on opening a facility to manufacture Iron Dome in the United States. Rafael already has offices opened in Washington, D.C., and the company plans to deliver interceptors, Yungman noted.
Within two years, subassemblies from Israel will be shipped to the new manufacturing facility in the United States, he said. “They will do the final integration. ... They will ship and deliver the interceptors.”
The new facility will be able to produce thousands of interceptors a year, although the Army has not set a requirement, he noted.
In Raytheon’s August announcement of the new facility, the firm said the partnership with Rafael is dubbed Raytheon RAFAEL Area Protection Systems and that the facility will produce both Iron Dome and the SkyHunter missile.
“It’s a highly collaborative relationship that we have with them,” Deneke said. “Raphael has a lot of technical expertise. Raytheon has been working with Raphael for many years, and so we have technical experts on our side as well.”
Deneke said the location of the U.S. Iron Dome facility is still yet to be determined. The August announcement said the companies hoped to choose a site by the end of 2020.
However, Deneke said the firms are “not holding ourselves to an end of the year announcement.”
There are some challenges facing Iron Dome moving forward.
One includes incorporating the system into the Army’s integrated air-and-missile defense battle command system, or IBCS, which helps network sensors together. In March, the service attempted to abandon its plans to purchase Iron Dome due to these potential complications, although it later walked back those decisions. Gen. John Murray, head of Army Futures Command, told the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee that the service would be unable to connect the Israeli product into IBCS.
“We believe we cannot integrate them into our air defense system based on some interoperability challenges, some cyber challenges, and some other challenges,” he said in testimony. “What we ended up having really is two standalone batteries that will be very capable, but they cannot be integrated into our air defense system.”
Deneke said Raytheon is working on the challenge to ensure that Iron Dome can be integrated into IBCS.
“The Army has been very public in terms of the challenges and the architecture associated with IBCS and that integration,” he said. “Certainly we understand that and have done some work in that regard.”
Raytheon is confident in its ability because it has already demonstrated the system with the Marine Corps, he noted. The Congressional Research Service noted that the Marine Corps was able to integrate Iron Dome elements into its radar and command-and-control system in August 2019 during a live-fire event.
“According to a Marine official at the time, ‘The Marine Corps proved during a live-fire demonstration last month that it could integrate Marine Corps systems with other components to successfully counter emerging threats,’” CRS said in a 2020 report titled, “U.S. Army Short-Range Air Defense Force Structure and Selected Programs: Background and Issues for Congress.”
Yungman also expressed confidence in solving the challenge, noting that Rafael has already been working on meeting Army requirements.
“We conducted another test by the Army requirements,” he said. “We, by our investments, sent and shipped a battery to the U.S. and deployed a system and actually conducted the test.”
Another issue was the availability of source code, with some Israeli publications reporting that U.S. officials were unable to obtain the required source code from Israel, which is key data needed to use the system. Yungman said the company has not run into issues with bringing Iron Dome over to the United States and modifying it for the U.S. Army.
“We shared our source code with the U.S. Army without any problems because we’re not hiding anything, and we delivered already a simulation of the interceptors to the U.S. Army and to Raytheon,” he said. “Any kind of technical data that was asked [for] by the Army was delivered by Rafael to the U.S. to the Army and to Raytheon.”
Topics: Army News