US Marines successfully test air defense system using Iron Dome launcher, missiles

Israel’s Defense Ministry says 1st trials conducted in New Mexico; prototype combines American radar, command center with Israel’s launcher and interceptor missiles

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Iron Dome battery fires an interceptor missile during a trial on the US military’s White Sands test range in New Mexico in an image published on July 18, 2022. (Defense Ministry)
An Iron Dome battery fires an interceptor missile during a trial on the US military’s White Sands test range in New Mexico in an image published on July 18, 2022. (Defense Ministry)

An American prototype air defense system based on Israel’s Iron Dome has successfully completed a set of trials, simulating threats the US Marine Corps is expected to face, Israel’s Defense Ministry said Monday.

The system — dubbed Marine Corps’ Medium-Range Intercept Capability (MRIC) — combines the Iron Dome’s launcher and Tamir interceptor missiles with a Marines radar and command center.

In the first trial, MRIC hit several simultaneously-launched targets, which simulated cruise missiles, from different directions and on different trajectories, the ministry said.

According to the Defense Ministry, the prototype is “tailored to existing USMC assets and expeditionary requirements.”

“This test has proven the Iron Dome Tamir Interceptor and associated ground components can be integrated quickly and efficiently in any relevant defense architecture and intercept various aerial threats successfully in complex and advanced scenarios,” said the Defense Ministry’s Missile Defense Organization head Moshe Patel.

Don Kelly, a program manager at the Marines’ program executive office — tasked with developing, delivering, and sustaining weapons — said the demonstration “proves that we do now have a relevant capability.”

The trials were conducted at the US military’s White Sands test range. The Rafael defense contractor that co-developed the Iron Dome, assisted in the test, the Israeli Defense Ministry said.

An Iron Dome battery fires an interceptor missile during a trial on the US military’s White Sands test range in New Mexico in an image published on July 18, 2022. (Defense Ministry)

“Once again, the Iron Dome has proven its effectiveness and operational capabilities in combat scenarios,” said Pini Yungman, Executive Vice President of Rafael’s Air and Missile Defense Division. “Rafael is proud to continue proving itself as a world leader in developing the most advanced defense systems, which have proven themselves time after time.”

Last summer, American troops conducted their first test of the Iron Dome, but without fully integrating it into their systems.

Originally designed to intercept rockets, the Iron Dome has since been upgraded and improved to allow it to also shoot down mortar shells, unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles.

Under a 2019 agreement, Israel sold two Iron Dome batteries to the US, the first being delivered in late 2020 and the second in January 2021. Since then, the US Army has been working to integrate the system into its air defense array.

An Iron Dome missile defense battery being loaded onto a ship for delivery to the United States in January 2021. (Defense Ministry)

Israel is interested in selling the Iron Dome system abroad but without exposing the proprietary technologies that make it work, as such information could be used by the country’s enemies to beat the system.

In March 2020, the US military raised concerns over the fact that it had not received access to this underlying source code, which it said made additional purchases less likely.

The Iron Dome system, which was first developed in Israel but was expanded significantly with US funding, has been in operational use for over a decade in Israel, principally against short-range rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, but also along the Syrian border. It currently represents the lowest tier of the country’s multi-leveled air defense array, joined by the mid-range David’s Sling, and the long-range Arrow missile systems.

Rockets from Gaza, on right, are seen in the night sky fired toward Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on left, rise to meet them. (Anas Baba/AFP)

Israel is meanwhile developing a high-powered laser-based air defense system, dubbed Iron Beam, which will work in tandem with the Iron Dome at the bottom of Israel’s multi-tiered air defense array.

The Iron Dome has intercepted thousands of projectiles in its years in service, most recently on Saturday after terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets at southern Israel, one of which was shot down by the air defense system, while the other three landed in open areas, causing no damage. The Iron Dome has been credited with saving hundreds of lives since it was first deployed in 2011.

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