The US Army said it was curbing its plans to adopt the Iron Dome missile defense system due to concerns about its compatibility with existing US technologies, scrapping its plans to buy two more batteries and explore long-term integration of the Israel-developed system.
A central problem was Israel’s refusal to provide the US military with Iron Dome’s source code, hampering the Americans’ ability to integrate the system into their air defenses.
Gen. Mike Murray, head of Army Futures Command, said the service identified a number of problems — including cyber vulnerabilities and operational challenges — during efforts last year to integrate elements of Iron Dome with the US Army’s Integrated Battle Command System.
“It took us longer to acquire those [first] two batteries than we would have liked,” Murray told the House Armed Service tactical air and land forces subcommittee on Thursday. “We believe we cannot integrate them into our air defense system based on some interoperability challenges, some cyber challenges and some other challenges.”
Last year, the Army announced plans to acquire two Iron Dome batteries to provide US forces an interim cruise missile defense capability, as well as explore full adoption of the Israeli-developed system for a program called Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2-Intercept program.
The Army earmarked over $1 billion for the project to pluck select Iron Dome components and integrate them with US military’s Integrated Battle Command System by 2023.
The Israeli Missile Defense Organization and the Army last August inked a deal for two Iron Dome batteries. Soon thereafter, according to sources, Army officials repeatedly requested Iron Dome “source code” — proprietary information detailing how the system works.
Israel supplied engineering information but ultimately declined to provide the source code the Army said it needed to integrate Iron Dome components with US systems.
The Army decision was based on the impasse over Iron Dome’s source code, not shortcomings identified in a physical technical assessment.
“I think everybody kind of knew going in that Iron Dome is on one hand a proven system with a lot of operational experience, but everyone also knew going in that it was tailor made for Israel, and so it is not going to be optimized for the United States,” said Tom Karako, a missile defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. “I see this development as not surprising.”
Still, the US Marine Corps successfully integrated elements of the Iron Dome with the service’s existing radar and command and control system during a live-fire event last summer.
That test event — which linked the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) and Common Aviation Command and Control System with elements of Iron Dome — was part of an effort to identify potential solutions to an urgent request from US commanders for a medium-range intercept capability, according to the Marine Corps.
The US Army said it was now adjusting its Iron Dome plans.
“So what we’ve ended up having was two stand-alone batteries that will be very capable but they cannot be integrated into our air defense system,” Murray told Congress.
Because Iron Dome will not be integrated with other elements of the US Army’s air- and missile-defense system, the service is cancelling plans to buy a second pair of Iron Dome batteries by 2023.
This development is prompting the Army to launch a new acquisition strategy for its Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2-Intercept program that features an open invitation to participate in a “shoot-off” next year in a bid to deliver a cruise missile defense capability by 2023.
“So, we’re working on a path right now… on a way forward,” Murray said. “We anticipate a shoot-off open to US industry, foreign industry, to go after whatever is the best solution to provide that capability.”
Since 2011, Congress has provided Israel more than $1.5 billion to produce Iron Dome batteries, developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. In August 2011, Raytheon and Rafael — which 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.
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.
An Iron Dome battery includes a radar built by ELTA and six launchers, each equipped with 20 interceptors.