An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket near the
Israeli city of Ashkelon. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
Israel sees its Iron Dome anti-rocket system as a noted
success of its Gaza assault. The only problem is keeping up
with demand for the interceptor missiles, their makers said
"We've been working in non-stop shifts," said an official
with Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd, which developed the
system. He declined to be named for security reasons.
Equipped with five of the boxed-shaped batteries, the Israeli
military says it has fired 360 missiles since the start of
operation "Pillar of Defence" last Wednesday, which it says
is aimed at halting rocket fire out of the coastal enclave.
Iron Dome's radar-guided interceptor missiles target only
rockets the system calculates will land in urban areas and
blow them up mid-air. A military source said it was having a
90 percent success rate.
If more Hamas rockets had got through, especially the handful
fired at Tel Aviv, and caused mass casualties, devastating
Israeli retaliation, perhaps including a full-scale ground
assault, would have been nearly certain.
Each interception costs $30,000 to $50,000, according to
former Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Israel argues that
proves cost-effective in preventing lethal strikes, which
could trigger a vastly more expensive war.
Sometimes two missiles are used against incoming rockets.
Prior to this week's fighting Israel had stockpiled the
interceptors - whose exact quantity is a state secret.
"Outstanding success rates have been achieved so far," said
Avi Leshem, an official with ELTA, a smaller firm involved in
the project. He said company employees were working "night
and day" to ensure the batteries stay in service.
The head of Israel's air defence corps, Brigadier-General
Shahar Shochat, said this week that the Iron Dome units could
continue fighting "as required".
An industry source familiar with production standards for
such weapons, estimated that at full output a company like
Rafael would be able to produce around 10 missiles a day.
The fifth Iron Dome unit, rushed through production and
posted near Tel Aviv on Saturday, features improved
capabilities for tackling longer-range rockets.
Israel says it needs 13 batteries altogether for nationwide
defence. Given the Gaza flare-up, the defence ministry is
currently earmarking funds, including from annual U.S.
grants, for about three more units.
The Rafael official said the firm now needed "months" to
produce each full system, whereas it once took a few years.
"Once the basic research and development was out of the way,
that speeded up manufacturing. Obviously now, with various
elements of the production being especially busy, that gives
the whole operation another boost," he said, adding that a
sixth battery was not expected in the near future.
And with every interception, Israel learns more about the
rockets being fired at it from Gaza.
"You can tell a lot from the strength of the blast" about
what kind of warhead had been used, the official said.
Information on the rocket's trajectory and speed are also
filed away and studied afterwards.
Israel hopes to increase the range of Iron Dome's
interceptions, from the current maximum of 70 km to 250 km.
Each battery costs Israel around $50 million, though the
export price would likely be higher. And there is already
"considerable interest" in the system overseas, ELTA said in
"But all we are thinking about is supplying Israel with its
needs," the Rafael official said. "Israel comes first."