NEW YORK — The US Army plans to buy two Israeli-developed Iron Dome 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.
This decision, which has not been announced by the Pentagon or Israeli Defense Ministry, comes 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.
Because the decision to buy Iron Dome was made after Congress locked in the 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. At press time, a congressional source told The Times of Israel 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.
Asked about plans to buy Iron Dome, first reported last week by Inside Defense, Jette declined to address details of the Army’s October report to Congress but suggested the service does not see a readily available, perfect solution to its current need.
“We want to have some things in place that provide us some immediate protection,” Jette said January 10 when asked about the US Army’s decision to acquire Iron Dome. “So what that’s going to do is we’re going to look at things that are readily available. Things that are readily available may meet some of our requirements but not all of our requirements. But we may be able to deal with those things that are, I don’t want to call them necessarily shortcomings, they’re, because something’s not a shortcoming if you never planned to do it.”
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.
Chris King, Raytheon’s director of Israeli programs, told The Times of Israel, “Raytheon is ready to support the Army, as it realizes the full capabilities of Iron Dome in a US operational environment. The Raytheon team has worked on the Iron Dome program for more than five years – successfully building, testing and deploying the system with Rafael, our partner in Israel.”
King said Raytheon currently builds 70 percent of the Iron Dome Tamir missile across 26 states across the US.
“We’re here to put our extensive expertise to work and support the Army’s needs for integration,” King said.
Raytheon and Rafael demonstrated Iron Dome during tests at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
A spokesman for Rafael declined to comment about the US Army’s plans to buy Iron Dome. Similarly, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Ministry declined to comment.
The prospect of a sale to the US Army marks a major win for Rafael which has waged a sustained campaign for most of this decade to find a way to sell Iron Dome to the US military.
“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 January 17. “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.
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.
“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.”