The process of detecting a rocket launch takes seconds, says Lt. Col. Levi Itach, the head of the army’s early warning branch. But it is filled with operational dilemmas.
Itach suggests, as an example, a Grad rocket with a 40-kilometer range. His soldiers, seated beside air force soldiers, in a joint command center in central Israel, receive notice of a launch after five seconds. By then they know that the object is neither a flock of birds nor a crop-duster mimicking the ballistic path of a rocket. The air force’s electro-optic systems then analyze the heat signature of the rocket and the trajectory of the take-off and provide the IDF Home Front Command with an initial target area.
Five seconds later, additional radars, tracking the behavior of the projectile, narrow the target area further. This continues throughout the rise of the rocket, Itach says, with the stain on the map diminishing throughout, but with the response time dwindling, too.
“Operationally speaking, where do you cut it off?” he asks. “How much time do you leave the citizen? What’s enough time? A 70-80-90-year old; a 5-year-old: realistically speaking, how much time do they need?”
The Grad with the 40-kilometer-range, he says, flies for two minutes. The more exact the warning, the fewer people exposed to the siren, the lesser the impact on the national psyche, the scanter the toll on the economy. In the case of the Grad-40, he says, the citizens are given 45 seconds to scurry to shelter.
— Mitch Ginsburg