from the May 2009 issue

'Iron Dome' expected to be operational by summer 2010

The first complete short-range missile interception "Iron Dome" system is expected to become operational as early as summer 2010, the armaments development authority Rafael said.

A test of the system held last month proved successful, and another experiment, testing a fully-fledged rocket interception, is planned for summer of 2009. According to schedule, Rafael will provide the first complete system to the Israeli Air Force at the end of the year. In the meantime, the organization and training of a new platoon to service the system will be speeded up.

The first system is expected to provide protection for the Sderot area, and probably Ashkelon as well. The production of additional systems will continue. The Alta factory producing the radar system for Iron Dome is now upgrading its capabilities to enable it to recognize launched rockets at a longer range than previously planned.

Rafael intends to begin full production of the new system as soon as the first one deployed proves effective in the field. The Defense Ministry has yet to decide on the overall number of systems it wants produced.

Rafael expects that the cost of a single interception missile will drop to below $50,000 per unit as soon as the first 1,000 units are delivered. The company says the calculations of the project's opponents, who note a manifold difference between the costs of a single interceptor missile and a single Qassam rocket, are exaggerated. Rafael says the radar system is supposed to identify which rockets are likelier to fall in populated areas. No intercepting missiles will be deployed if the system determines the incoming rocket is heading toward open areas.

An analysis of Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War of 2006 showed that only 1,000 rockets (25 percent of all rockets launched) landed in populated areas. Rafael says that if Iron Dome had been operational at the time of the war, the majority of those missiles could have been shot down at a cost of tens of millions of shekels, a negligible amount when compared to the loss of life, destruction of property and strategic damage actually caused by Hezbollah.

Sources within Rafael said that producing and developing such systems in such a comparatively short period would be a significant achievement.

In 2007, the government approved funding for the system, which is designed to intercept short- and medium-range rockets such as Qassams and Katyushas. The move came after years of cross-border rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and the experience of the Second Lebanon War, during which Hezbollah guerillas fired almost 4,000 rockets into northern Israel.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report May 2009

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