NIS 2.2 billion has been invested to date in the development, production lines, and procurement of five operational Iron Dome batteries serving the Israel Air Force's air defense network. The estimated price of each battery is $55 million, and the cost of each Tamir interceptor missile is estimated at $50,000.
Thanks to state-of-the-art radar and command and control capability, the Iron Dome can manage "combat economics" and calculate at an early stage the trajectory of an incoming rocket and where it will land. If the rocket will hit a populated area, the Iron Dome fires an interceptor missile. If the incoming rocket is going to hit an open area, where it will cause no injuries or damage, no interceptor missile is launched.
Top IDF commanders and Ministry of Defense officials, including the former director general and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, opposed the investment in developing Iron Dome. The opponents' objections included that the system would not work and that it cost too much. Despite the objections, then-Minister of Defense Amir Peretz ordered the system's development and gave Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. the green light.
The first Iron Dome battery was declared operational in April 2011, and it made its first successful interception over Ashkelon. Since then, Iron Dome batteries have intercepted about 350 rockets fired against towns in southern Israel, and, since Thursday, against greater Tel Aviv. Since the start of Operation Pillar of Cloud, Iron Dome batteries have intercepted over 250 rockets. The estimated success rate is 90%.
The Air Force has received five Iron Dome batteries to date, the most recent of which was delivered last week. A Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee, which analyzed Israel's defense needs, concluded that at least 13 batteries were needed to cover all arenas.
Fewer than 100 people are employed on regular production of the system at Rafael's plant in the north. Given the need for a large inventory of interceptor missiles, the Ministry of Defense intends to allocate more resources to double the production line of the interceptors in 2013.
Development of the Iron Dome began in 2005, at the order of the Ministry of Defense, after it examined more than 20 bids for a rocket interceptor system against the backdrop of kassam rocket barrages against communities in the south. Other offers were also on the agenda, including the procurement of US systems, the Nautilus tactical high-energy laser interceptor system and the Phalanx automated radar-guided Gatling cannon.
Israel invested NIS 830 million in development and production of the first two Iron Dome batteries. Since then, the program has mostly been financed by special allocations by the US government, amounting to $1 billion, provided in installments, which will enable the production of up to ten batteries. Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has asked the government for another NIS 750 million for further investment in the program.
Last year, the defense establishment, through SIBAT Defense Export and Defense Cooperation, unveiled the Iron Dome at international arms shows in an effort to sell the system to friendly countries, which would enable regular production at Rafael and lower costs. However, few countries face a missile and rocket threat like Israel.
The Iron Dome program is headed by Rafael, a government defense company, which manufactures the batteries and the Tamir interceptor missiles. The system's radar, which identifies targets, is produced by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) subsidiary Elta Systems, and the command and control system is produced by mPrest Systems Ltd.
Just two weeks ago, Rafael engineers completed software upgrades for the Iron Dome which greatly expand its performance and ability to intercept a wide range of rockets. The software upgrades were installed at all the batteries deployed in the south, and make possible more accurate interceptions. The battery deployed last week in greater Tel Aviv is equipped with a stronger radar system than the other batteries.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 19, 2012
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