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US military completes first Iron Dome tests on American soil

Israel’s Defense Ministry says trials conducted in New Mexico with assistance from Israeli firms, in first since batteries were delivered some 8 months ago

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

American troops conducted their first test of the Iron Dome missile defense system in the United States earlier this summer, Israel’s Defense Ministry said Monday.

This was the first live fire trial, in which US soldiers shot down targets, including drones, with the Iron Dome, according to the ministry. 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 United States, 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.

The trials were conducted in June at the US military’s White Sands test range. The Israeli manufacturers of the Iron Dome — the Rafael, IAI Elta and mPrest defense contractors — assisted in the test, the ministry said.

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.

An Iron Dome battery fires an interceptor missile during a trial on the US military’s White Sands test range in New Mexico in June 2021. (Defense Ministry)

A spokesperson for Rafael told The Times of Israel in September that year that the company was actively negotiating additional sales to the American military and believed the concerns raised in March were no longer relevant.

The spokesman noted that the previous month Rafael had announced that it was partnering with the American defense contractor Raytheon to open an Iron Dome production line in the United States — a sign that further US deals were in the offing.

The Iron Dome system, which was first developed in Israel but was expanded significantly with US funding, has been in operational use for nearly a decade in Israel, principally against short-range rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, but also along the Syrian border. It 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-2 and Arrow-3 missile systems.

The Iron Dome has intercepted thousands of projectiles in its 10 years in service, most recently last Monday after terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets at the town of Sderot, one of which was shot down by the air defense system, while the second landed inside the Palestinian enclave. The Iron Dome has been credited with saving hundreds of lives since it was first deployed in 2011.

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