Israel’s Iron Dome defence system has recently protected Israel from a massive rocket attack from Gaza by Hamas, in which Hamas fired over 4000 rockets on Israeli civilians. This system has proved its might by saving heavy loss of life and property with over 90% accuracy. So, let us have a look that what actually is this Iron Dome Air defence system………….. let’s start…………..
This system was developed by Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries. The missile components has been developed with collaboration of Raytheon. It uses ELM 2084 radar to track incoming aerial threats, which is manufactured by ELTA. It is in service with the Israeli Defence Forces since 2011.
US in 2010, funded $205 million for speedy development, production and deployment of Iron Dome. US had also helped Israel in developing various components and parts of Iron Dome.
The need for having a defence system like this arrived when in 2006, during the Israel-Lebanon war the Hezbollah fired over thousands of rockets on Israeli targets and caused death of over 50 people and a great loss to property. At that time Israeli government started hunting for a full fledged air defence system that can overcome this threat.
Iron Dome is a part of a multi-tiered missile defense system that Israel uses to protect its citizens and territory, from threats ranging from mortars to ICBMs. Other Israeli air defence system includes Arrow 2, Arrow 3, Iron Beam, Barak 8 and David’s Sling.
Challenges For The System
It is important to know which type of rockets the Hamas and Hezbollah are firing, and then only you can understand the challenges in developing the counter-attack system. They are firing the rockets named QASSAM and KATYUSHA (Soviet-made, World War 2 era rockets).
These rockets are insanely inaccurate and jiggle in the air while in flight, thus making it difficult to trace and neutralise before they make contact on native land. This calls for the need of a specialised RADAR which came in the form of ELM 2084 produced by ELTA.
Iron Dome is a mobile air defence system. The system is capable of tracing and shooting down short range rockets, artillery shells, mortars and unmanned aerial vehicle from a range of 4 km to 70 km and 150 square kilometres of airspace. The RADAR being used can even detect that what is the point at which the incoming rocket or shell is going to have contact with and then decide that whether to engage it or not.
This feature has been embedded in the RADAR as the firing of rockets from Gaza side comes in swarms of thousands and it is not possible to engage every rocket with a counter Iron Dome missiles, as the missiles are expensive and even above that if a rocket is going to land in an open non-habitated areas, then there is naturally no need to engage it. As it won’t damage to any life or property. It can be operated in all weather conditions including fog, dust, storm, clouds and rain.
Parts Of Iron Dome Unit
The unit of Iron Dome system consists of three main components :-
- Detection and Tracking Radar
- Battle Management and Weapon Control (BMC)
- Missile Firing Unit
Detection & Tracking Radar: It uses ELM-2084 Radar. The radar system is built by Elta, an Israeli defense company and subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, and by the IDF. It tracks the trajectory of incoming missiles and other aerial threats. It tracks from where threats are coming i.e. its direction and projection. It also tracks the missiles path and predicts where it is going to hit.
Battle Management & Weapon Control (BMC): The control center consists of defence personnel, who received the inputs from the Radar and decide whether they have to intercept the threat or not. The BMC calculates the impact point according to the reported data, and uses this information to determine whether the target constitutes a threat to a designated area. Only when that threat is determined, is an interceptor missile fired to destroy the incoming rocket before it reaches the predicted impact area.
Missile Firing Unit: After getting confirmation from BMC, the unit launches the Tamir interceptor missile, equipped with electro-optic sensors and several steering fins for high maneuverability. The missile is built by Rafael. A typical Iron Dome battery has 3–4 launchers (20 missiles per launcher).
Working Of Iron Dome
The System is powered by missile defence batteries, each containing three main components. These batteries can defend across short-range rocket and mortar attacks within almost 45 miles of the battery. They are mobile so can be moved where they are needed.
First, ELTA ELM-2084 radar unit detects an incoming rocket and relays information about its speed and trajectory to the battery’s control center.
The control center computer calculates if the rocket is going to hit populated areas, if it is then a missile is fired by the Missile Firing Unit, from the launcher. Each launcher contains 20 Tamir interceptor missiles.
Each Missile Firing Unit receives constant guidance updates from the control system and its internal radar. The missile destroys the incoming rocket by exploding near. The goal is to do this far away from the populated areas, minimizing the damage on the ground.
The estimated cost of each Tamir interceptor missile was cited in 2014 as from US$20,000 to 50,000; a 2020 analysis estimated a total cost of $100,000 to $150,000 for each interception. In contrast, a crudely manufactured QASSAM rocket costs around $800 and the Hamas Grad rocket costs only several thousand dollars. Thus, its operating cost is a point of issue for Israel. To overcome this problem, Israel is working on development of another air defence system, named as Iron Beam. It is a laser type Air Defence System, which will use powerful lasers to intercept the aerial threats.
Israel had offered the Iron Dome air defence system to India in 2012. But after consulting with DRDO and IAF the Indian government decided not to buy it.
The reasons are :-
- It can intercept smaller missiles fired by Israeli neighbours. It can intercept missiles like QASSAM and KATYUSHAS, which carry warhead of maximum upto 20 kg and has smaller range as of range in 20 km. But Pakistan and China, have much more developed and more capable missiles. The Iron Dome cannot intercept such missiles. So, India had dropped the plan to buy Iron Dome.
- Another weakness of Iron Dome system is that, each Iron Dome system protects no more than 100–150 square kilometers of territory. This is effective in a small country like Israel, but not for larger states like India. For countries like India, it will also cost huge as more batteries needed to be purchased for protecting its airspace.
To meet the International market demand, Israel is working on upgrade of Iron Dome. The plan is to increase the range of system to 250 km, which could intercept rockets coming from two direction simultaneously. And most probably after its upgradation, India will consider to purchase the Iron Dome.
Indian Alternatives of Iron Dome
India has a huge range of Air Defence Systems with many being indigenously developed. India is also purchasing S-400 Air Defense System, it is of Russian origin and currently one of the best in the world. India is also developing Barak-8 air defence system in collaboration with Israel.
About India’s Air defence system, there is already a detailed article available on our website. You can check it here.