Iron Dome gets mysterious upgrade
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Iron Dome gets mysterious upgrade

Defense Ministry announces an improvement to the missile defense system, against unspecified 'unprecedented threats'

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

An Iron Dome battery intercepts an incoming rocket during the  summer 2014 war (photo credit: IDF)
An Iron Dome battery intercepts an incoming rocket during the summer 2014 war (photo credit: IDF)

Israel has successfully upgraded its Iron Dome missile-defense system, the Defense Ministry said Thursday, without elaborating on the specific improvements.

A series of tests was performed to “widen the capacity and improve the performance” of the system, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. It added that Israel faces “an unprecedented array of threats” presumably ranging from mortars to long-range missiles from a variety of origins.

The Iron Dome system was developed, after much nay-saying, to counter the rocket threat from Gaza, a territory from which Hamas and other organizations have fired since 2001 upward of 15,200 projectiles at Israel. Sped to the field in a near unfathomable four years, the Rafael-made system was built to counter rocket threats from four to 70 kilometers away.

On April 7, 2011, several days after the system was made operational, it intercepted a Grad rocket fired from Gaza. Since then, the system has displayed an interception rate of roughly 85 percent, destroying or diverting the incoming projectiles.

An Iron Dome Missile Battery near Tel Aviv, on the first day of Operation Protective Edge, July 8, 2014. (Photo by Flash90)
An Iron Dome missile battery near Tel Aviv, on the first day of Operation Protective Edge, July 8, 2014. (Photo by Flash90)

During last summer’s war in and around Gaza, Hamas and other terror organizations fired 4,594 rockets at Israel. Of those, the system chose to intercept 799 projectiles –if is designed to focus only on missiles deemed threatening to populated areas — hitting 735 and missing 64, according to a Channel 2 report.

Toward the end of the war, Hamas focused on short-range mortar fire, which the system was not made to intercept. Other attempts have been made to increase the rate of fire so as to overwhelm the system and to acquire heavier and longer rockets that exceed Iron Dome’s limits.

Israel, while pushing Iron Dome’s larger cousin, David’s Sling, to operational status, has also increased the performance envelope of the existing system.

Nonetheless, particularly in a war against Hezbollah, which possesses more rockets and missiles, and which is expected to open a future conflict with a blitz, the army has been preparing the public for a less stellar performance.

“The writing is on the wall and the disappointment will come,” IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said shortly after Operation Protection Edge last summer. He called Iron Dome “outstanding” in an interview with the IAF quarterly magazine, but added that in the next war “we will not see the same results as Operation Protection Edge.”

Uzi Rubin, a former head of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization at the Defense Ministry, has said there are no game-changers in the ongoing conflict with Israel’s foes. Each side continues to develop the technology it needs. Rockets beget anti-rocket technology. Multi-rocket launchers beget additional Iron Dome batteries. And so on.

“There is no ultimate winner,” he told the Times of Israel in 2012. “It is a game without end.”

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