Iron Dome 0

This is from the Times of Israel, by David Shamah:

One of the results of the recent Operation Pillar of Defense operation against Gaza rocket-launching terrorists was the enhanced reputation of Israeli hi-tech, thanks to the effectiveness of the Iron Dome missile defense system. People in Israel – and around the world – looked on in awe as Israeli anti-missile missiles plucked attacking rockets out of the sky, effectively vaporizing them before they could fall, whole or in parts, over populated areas.

Israel, of course, has kept mum over the details of the technology that goes into Iron Dome which defends against low-altitude short-range missiles that are fired from Gaza and Lebanon, as well as its other missile defense systems, including David’s Sling and the Arrow (defense systems against medium- and long-range missile threats, respectively).

But a rapt audience at Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Center this week [last week of December, 2012] got to hear some of the details of how Iron Dome was able to repel some 90 percent of the terrorist rockets fired at Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense that it was activated against, directly from one of the people most responsible for the design, development, execution, and implementation of Iron Dome. And while Natan Barak, CEO of mPrest Systems, could not reveal any of the system’s “top secrets,” he presented some interesting details about Iron Dome, the heart of which was developed by his company, and some hints of what future Iron Dome upgrades will look like. …

mPrest started life as in 1996 as mPrest Technologies, and was supposed to develop solutions for wireless technology. That company was a victim of the dot-com boom, and folded in 2002; at that point Barak, along with his partners Eli Arlazoroff, Reuven Gamzon and Alexander Arlievsky (all of whom are still at the company), reformed it the following year as mPrest Systems, and began developing what would eventually become the command and control brain of Iron Dome. After trying to raise money to advance development, Barak and his partners decided in 2010 they would be better off selling out to Rafael (Israel Military Industries), which owns 50% of mPrest’s shares. …

“The defense establishment was in a bit of a panic after the thousands of rockets that hit the country after the Second Lebanon War in 2006. It was decided that a reliable missile defense system was needed to meet the missile threat, which everyone knew would be repeated in time.” …

A full Iron Dome system consists of mPrest’s Battle Management & Weapon Control (BMC) system – and specifically its C4I Rocket Interception product – where personnel monitor and troubleshoot the automated missile response system; a detection and radar tracking system, built by Israel Aircraft Industries; and, of course, the Tamir interceptor missile itself, built by Rafael (Tamir is a Hebrew acronym for “anti-missile missile”). The system is designed to counter short-range rockets and 155 mm artillery shells with a range of up to 70 kilometers, and can be operated in all weather conditions, any time of day or night. …

Barak couldn’t give too much away about the mechanics of Iron Dome, but its general mode of operation is known: The system detects a launch as a missile makes its way to an area that is within the protection umbrella of an Iron Dome installation. The “incoming” is detected by the highly sophisticated radar system, and the information on the missile’s trajectory, direction, and location are transferred to the command and control system, which then decides what to do. … The command system issues an order to fire a Tamir only if a key target, such as a residential or industrial area, or a sensitive installation, appears to be at risk. Once fired, the Tamir locks in on the incoming rocket, and knocks it out of the sky at the maximum height possible, destroying it with methods that ensure that a minimum of debris will survive to fall to the ground. …

Videos show an array of dozens of rockets being fired at the same time by Hamas terrorists, and on several occasions during Pillar of Defense terrorists fired multiple arrays of these rockets …  in an apparent effort to overwhelm the Iron Dome command and control system.

That’s why … mPrest came up with “hundreds of scenarios in which Iron Dome would be pitted against rockets fired by terrorists.” Those scenarios included a seemingly endless combination of numbers of rockets and arrays used by the terrorists, with the best – from a defensive and economic viewpoint – strategy for Iron Dome to use to ensure that the incoming attack did as little damage as possible. …

The biggest challenge, [Barak] said, was the instant response time needed to shoot down an incoming rocket. “Although we in Tel Aviv were of course concerned during Pillar of Defense when Hamas directed its firepower at us, the truth is that the problem is not here, but in places like Sderot, where within 15 seconds residents have to take cover. It’s an almost impossible task … and as a result we have had to make Iron Dome as flexible as possible, enabling commanders in the field to make adjustments to the response capabilities of the system as quickly as the terrorists change their strategy.”

mPrest’s command and control system, he said, is the only one in the world that is “truly generic, as opposed to other systems that have to be programmed specifically and reprogrammed to meet changing needs. With Iron Dome, we have taken the programming power away from the programmer and put it into the hands of the field crew, where it should be in order to mount a proper defense.” Once set up, though, the system is completely automatic, said Barak. “Even in instances of multiple attacks in an area within an Iron Dome defense perimeter, “the system will target only the rockets that are set to fall in an area that will cause damage or injury, and it will ignore the rest.”

Besides making things easier for the IDF, the flexibility and generic nature of the command and control system will make it easier to sell abroad, which the company has already begun doing. The system is perfect for defense systems, including of course, air, shore, and perimeter monitoring, But it’s also for civilian uses as well; mPrest’s innovations are a major part of the system used by vehicle tracking system Ituran, for example.

The IDF learned a lot about Iron Dome’s capabilities and limitations during Pillar of Defense, and so did mPrest, which is busy integrating those lessons for the next generation of Iron Dome. In fact, the war gave that next generation a major push forward …

“The defense establishment has no doubt that Iron Dome, and the other defense missile systems we are helping out with, including David’s Sling and the Arrow, are going to be crucial to the country’s defenses in the coming years,” said Barak. “We’re ready, although I really hope that our services won’t be needed.”

And this is from the National Post, by Matt Gurney:

Bad news for Hamas: Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence gets better every day.

So said a senior engineer with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Israeli company that developed Iron Dome. Iron Dome is a missile defence system that can intercept short-range missiles, rockets and even artillery shells, at close range and with only seconds of warning. Originally deployed in early 2011, the system came in for widespread global recognition during the week-long conflict between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas last month.

During the fighting, Hamas and other extremist groups bombarded Israel with hundreds of rockets. And Iron Dome blasted most of them out of the sky. …

After a few days of fighting, Israel changed its tactical doctrine: Iron Dome used to fire two interceptors at every rocket, in case the first missed. They quickly realized that was a waste. The system was good enough that if it wasn’t possible on the first shot, the second wouldn’t get it, either. …

Every day of the conflict, military officers gave his company all of the data collected by Iron Dome computers and military radars for the last 24 hours. Rafael engineers would then work through the night, tweaking the software that controls Iron Dome. They’d turn the new software over to the military officers at the next meeting, then start looking over a fresh 24 hour’s worth of data.

It was exhausting for the relative handful of software engineers. But it worked. “The improvements were measurable,” the engineer told me. “It wasn’t dramatic. But we did a little bit better every day. The more rockets they fired at us, the better we got at shooting them down. By the end of the week, Iron Dome was better than it had been at the start. And it was pretty good, then, too.”

Soon … the system’s reliability will be limited only by the mechanical reliability of its various component parts. As long as the equipment works, they expect to hit their target every time. …

Iron Dome has already proven its worth. “It gave our politicians something they don’t usually have,” he said. “Options. We didn’t have to invade Gaza. We made them look powerless just by protecting ourselves. … All the interceptors we fired cost less than one day of ground fighting in Gaza.”

That’s good news for Israel and its neighbours. The whole region is always one lucky shot by Hamas away from a major war — the rockets usually do no damage, but if they did hit something valuable, Israel would be compelled to respond with massive force. Iron Dome makes such tragedies less likely.

Hamas might not like to admit it, but Iron Dome saves Palestinian lives, too.

Note:  Iron Dome was invented and developed in Israel, but the US has invested about $900 million in the system, and now calls for the sharing of technology and co-production.