Netanyahu hails US purchase of Israeli Iron Dome batteries
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Netanyahu hails US purchase of Israeli Iron Dome batteries

Washington buys missile defense system to protect deployed troops, says no decision yet on specific theater for use; PM warns enemies Israel has an ‘iron fist’

A Tamir missile fired from an Iron Dome missile defense battery during a trial in the United States in April 2016. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)
A Tamir missile fired from an Iron Dome missile defense battery during a trial in the United States in April 2016. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)

The Israeli Defense Ministry and US Department of Defense on Wednesday confirmed that the US Army will buy Israeli-developed Iron Dome batteries to defend deployed American troops.

Announcing the purchase, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, said the deal was proof of the strength of the relationship between the two countries, before warning Israel’s enemies not to test the strength of the country’s “iron fist.”

“This is a great achievement for Israel and yet another expression of the strengthening of our powerful alliance with the US and an expression of Israel’s rising status in the world,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Israel has an Iron Dome and an iron fist. Our systems know how to deal with any threat, both in defense and in attack. I would not recommend our enemies to try us.”

The statement said the deal was brokered for the US Army’s “immediate need” for the missile defense system but that long-term requirements would also be examined.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reviews a drill of the Armored Corps at the Shizafon Base, in southern Israel on January 23, 2019. (Flash90)

According to the Reuters news agency, the US Army said the batteries will be used to defend deployed US military forces against “indirect fire threats and aerial threats.”

“The Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed US military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats,” US Army spokesperson Col. Patrick Seiber said in a statement, according to CNN.

“While Iron Dome has been in operational use by the Israeli Air Force since 2011 and proven effective in combat, it should be noted that the US Army will assess a variety of options for its long-term IFPC solution,” the statement added, using the acronym for Indirect Fire Protection Capability.

“No decisions have been made regarding the fielding or experimentation of Iron Dome in specific theaters,” Seiber said.

Last month it was reported that the US was planning to purchase two batteries and deploy them next year as a first step in a new $1.7 billion project to both provide American troops an interim defense against cruise missiles and also explore long-term adoption of Iron Dome components for use in a major US air and missile defense system.

Israeli soldiers stand near a battery of the Iron Dome missile defense system, January 24, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

This decision came after the US military last year conducted an internal review of its short-range air defense needs to assess whether Iron Dome or a Norwegian or US-developed system was best suited to address a gap in defenses against potential Russian and Chinese cruise missile threats.

On October 31, US Army acquisition chief Bruce Jette notified Congress of the results of this internal review which centered on a program called the Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2-Intercept program. IFPC, as the program is called, is still in development and aims to do many of the things Iron Dome has demonstrated in more than 1,700 interceptions, including shooting down unmanned air vehicle, mortars, rockets and artillery.

“Based on an analysis of cost, schedule and performance, the Army [has decided to]: field two interim IFPC batteries of Iron Dome in [fiscal year] 2020, while concurrently componentizing a launcher and interceptor solution that are interoperable and integrated with the Army IBCS by FY-23,” states the 15-page report Jette sent Congress. IBCS is a separate, $7.8 billion development program, a complex effort to create an overarching umbrella to connect and coordinate all US Army short- and long-range air and missile defense sensors and interceptors.

The US Army now plans to spend $373 million to buy the two Israeli-developed defense systems.

An Iron Dome Missile Defense battery fires an intercepting missile on August 9, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Because the decision to buy Iron Dome was made after Congress locked in the US Army’s 2019 spending plan, the service will seek permission from lawmakers to divert $289 million appropriated in 2019 from other projects to Iron Dome and will look to finance the balance, $83.9 million, in the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, according to the report.

The two Iron Dome batteries the US Army will buy consist of 12 launchers, two radars, two battlement management centers and 240 interceptors. A congressional source told The Times of Israel in January that the US Army had not yet submitted a request to shift the funds between accounts.

In addition, the US Army proposes spending $1.6 billion through 2024 to “componentize” the Iron Dome launcher and missiles in order to integrate the system with the US Army’s Sentinel radar and IBCS.

Since 2011, Congress has provided Israel more than $1.4 billion for Iron Dome batteries, developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. In August 2011, US-based Raytheon and Rafael — which are partnered on David’s Sling, a US-Israeli cooperative missile defense development program — announced an agreement to allow Raytheon to market Iron Dome in the United States. And in 2014, the US and Israeli governments signed a co-production agreement to enable some portions of the Iron Dome system to be produced in the United States.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, with then-US president Barack Obama, right, and then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, left, against the backdrop of an Iron Dome anti-rocket battery, March 20, 2013. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

“The United States government and taxpayer have supported the development and production of Iron Dome program for many years now and so, in that respect, this is not turning to a stranger but to a close partner,” said Tom Karako, a missile defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.

Karako said the US Army’s selection of Iron Dome to meet an immediate cruise missile defense will need to be followed by a demonstration that the system can reliably defeat threats more challenging than it was originally designed to address.

“The Iron Dome system was developed for a very particular Israeli need and geography that is unique,” Karako told The Times of Israel. “So it will be important, as the Army goes down this path, that they truly adapt any cruise missile defense system to the much more global and mobile requirements that the United States has. We’re a global force, we’re not just operating in a small location. So the requirements for the United States are likely to be much more demanding.”

Early last year, the US Army began exploring ways to accelerate fielding of an interim IFPC capability. The 2018 National Defense Strategy stressed the important of cruise missile defense against potential Russian and Chinese threats. Lawmakers then mandated the army make plans to field an interim cruise missile defense capability by September 2020.

Israeli soldiers stand guard next to an Iron Dome missile defense battery in central Israel on November 14, 2017. (AFP/Jack Guez)

The service considered three options: Iron Dome, Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System, built by Kongsburg and Raytheon, and an improved variant of the IFPC Increment 2 that is still competitively developing of three new interceptors.

Only Iron Dome could meet the 2020 goal, according to the US Army report, with the Norwegian system lagging in 2021 and the IFPC Inc. 2 variant not expected to be fielded until 2023. The NASAMS unit launcher carried a $12 million price tag and each AIM-120 missile was $800,000 and could intercept cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft but not rocket, artillery and mortar fire, according to the report.

By comparison, the Iron Dome launcher cost $1.37 million, the battle management center cost $4 million, the Israel Aerospace Industries-built radar $34.7 million and each Tamir interceptor, $150,000.

A line of Iranian Qadir anti-ship cruise missiles, first revealed in 2011. (screen capture: YouTube/PressTV)

“The Iron Dome system has capability against cruise missiles, unmanned aircraft systems and rocket, artillery and mortar fire,” according to the report. “Additionally, the Army assessed the key benefits of the Iron Dome system as its magazine depth of 20 interceptors per launcher and the proven capabilities of the Tamir Missile. The fielded interceptor is battle tested and Israeli qualified. Based on recent simulation and limited demonstration results, the Army concluded the Iron Dome system supports the interim capability requirements.”

Looking to 2023, the US Army plans to explore the “feasibility of a componentized launcher and interceptor for an enduring IFPC solution that leverages joint studies and experimentation between the Army and the Marine Corps,” the report states.

“The Army plans to experiment with Army sensors and IBCS to determine the complexity of integration of the componentized launcher and the interceptor solution prior to making a final decision on the enduring solution,” the report states. “The Iron Dome system provides the best value to the Army based on its schedule, cost per kill, magazine depth, and capability against specified threats.”

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