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Nov 17, 2012 | 23:46 GMT

3 mins read

Gaza Conflict Tests Israel's Iron Dome

Gaza Conflict Tests Israel's Iron Dome
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The Israeli military on Nov. 17 deployed an upgraded Iron Dome battery to Tel Aviv following its being targeted by several long-range Fajr-5 rockets. The battery, originally scheduled for deployment in January 2013, was placed in the metropolitan area of Gush Dan and was reported to have successfully intercepted its first rocket around 4:45 p.m. local time.

During Operation Pillar of Defense, the full Iron Dome system, comprising batteries in Beersheba, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Netivot in addition to the newly deployed one in Tel Aviv, has reportedly intercepted 231 out of at least 641 rockets launched out of Gaza. Batteries in southern Israel have engaged a far larger volume of rockets coming out of Gaza due to the predominance of shorter-range rockets in the Gaza militant arsenal.

The Israeli Defense Ministry indicated Nov. 16 that Defense Minister Ehud Barak would seek Cabinet approval for funds that could provide Israel with three new Iron Dome systems. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously stated that 10 to 15 Iron Dome batteries will be necessary to provide full coverage of Israel. The Iron Dome is partially funded by the United States, initially allocating $205 million, with another $70 million set for May 2013 and $680 million pledged under the condition of technology sharing.

The deployment of these batteries is spread over time because the Israeli military wants to field them as soon as they roll out of the factories and finish the testing stage. In between the fielding, technology is enhanced and each single battery can be seen as a newer more advanced model. The battery deployed near Tel Aviv today is the most advanced example of the system so far. Israeli policymakers had discussed deploying an Iron Dome battery in Haifa to protect the port facilities from rockets launched by Hezbollah out of Lebanon, but the current crisis has prompted them to speed up the deployment of the latest battery to Tel Aviv.

Each Iron Dome battery has a radar detection and tracking system, a firing control system and three launchers for 20 Tamir interceptor missiles. Each has a range of between 4 and 70 kilometers (2.5 and 44 miles), and a single battery can reportedly defend a 150 square kilometer area. The Iron Dome system tracks incoming rockets and launches interceptor missiles at them to destroy them in the air. Each Tamir interceptor costs approximately $40,000 and is equipped with a proximity-fused warhead.

To avoid wasting the relatively costly interceptors, the system selects its targets based on their projected impact location, avoiding attempts to intercept rockets that are not headed toward critical infrastructure or populated areas. The system is vulnerable to oversaturation — the more rockets in the air simultaneously, the greater chance one will fail to be intercepted.

Considering the large amount of rockets coming out of Gaza over the last days, only a limited amount of rockets have made it into the areas these batteries are protecting, and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the manufacturer of the system, claims an 85 percent success rate. While this number may be exaggerated, the system does appear to have performed well thus far.

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