Iron Dome is an effective, truck-towed, multi-mission mobile air defence system developed by Rafael Advanced Defence Systems. The system has been developed to counter very short-range rockets and 155mm artillery shell threats with ranges of up to 70km. It can be operated in all weather conditions including fog, dust storm, low clouds and rain.
The all-weather air defence system protects the population and critical assets and can be strategically placed to reduce collateral damage. Iron Dome detects, analyses and intercepts a range of incoming threats, including C-RAM, precise guided missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and air-breathing threats.
The system has so far intercepted more than 2,500 incoming targets with a success rate of over 90%.
Selected by the Israel Defence Ministry, Iron Dome provides defence against short-range missiles and rockets which pose a threat to the civilian population of Israel’s northern and southern border.
“In July 2010, the US House of Representatives approved $205m in funding to speed up the production and deployment of Iron Dome.”
The system was deployed by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) in March 2011.
In November 2012, Israel installed the fifth Iron Dome battery at Gush Dan in response to the rocket attacks on the Tel Aviv area. The Iron Dome air defence system is being used to intercept and shoot down hundreds of rockets from Gaza as the latest round of escalations between Israel and Palestine in May 2021 engulfed the region. The violent clashes saw Hamas launch a barrage of rockets targeting Tel Aviv in Israel in response to an alleged Israeli airstrike in Gaza. The death toll in the Gaza Strip as a result of the Israeli airstrikes stood at more than 60 people.
I-DOME is a mobile version of the system, which can be deployed on a single truck, while C-DOME is a naval version.
Iron Dome mobile air defence system background and development details
The firing of rockets by Hezbollah during 2006’s Second Lebanon War led to the development of Iron Dome. Nearly 4,000 rockets, mostly of the short-range Katyusha type, were fired on Haifa and other northern regions of Israel.
About 44 Israeli civilians were killed in the attack and approximately 250,000 citizens were evacuated and relocated to other parts of Israel.
Between 2000 and 2008, more than 4,000 mortars and 4,000 rockets (mostly Qassams) were fired from Gaza into southern Israel. As the range of the Qassam has been expanded due to the introduction of 122mm Grad launchers, nearly one million southern Israelis came within the range.
To counter the rocket threats, the Israel Defence Ministry decided in February 2007 to develop a mobile air defence system.
The missile defence system was successfully tested in March 2009. The testing was carried out without physically intercepting a missile or rocket. In July 2009, during a defence ministry test, the system successfully intercepted a number of rockets.
A new battalion was established by the IAF in August 2009 to operate the Iron Dome system. Multiple rocket bombardments mimicking Qassams and Katyushas were intercepted successfully in a test carried out in January 2010.
The final testing of the Iron Dome was undertaken in July 2010. The system successfully determined and intercepted only incoming missile threats, while other missiles which were headed toward open fields were not intercepted.
Raytheon collaborated with Rafael for the commercialisation of the Iron Dome weapon system in the US in August 2011. Raytheon secured a $149m contract from Rafael for the supply of Tamir interceptor components used in the system, in September 2014. Raytheon Rafael Area Protection Systems was formed as a new joint venture between Raytheon and Rafael in August 2020 to establish an Iron Dome production facility in the US.
Iron Dome missile system features
Iron Dome is composed of three fundamental elements, a detection and tracking radar, a battle management and weapon control system (BMC) and a missile firing unit (MFU). The radar system has been developed by Israeli defence company Elta.
The control system has been built by an Israeli software company mPrest Systems, engaged by Rafael.
The missile launched by the MFU of Iron Dome included Tamir interceptor missiles.
It has several steering fins for high manoeuvrability and is equipped with electro-optic sensors. The missile system has day-and-night and all-weather capability, quick reaction time, and salvo interception capability. It can also adapt to rapidly evolving threats and handle multiple threats at the same time.
Other features of the Iron Dome include a vertical launch interceptor, warhead and proximity fuse, mobile launcher, and compatibility with various radar and detection systems. The system’s special warhead allows it to detonate any target in the air.
After detecting and identifying the rocket, Iron Dome radar monitors its path. Based on the radar’s information, the system’s BMC analyses the path of the threat and calculates an anticipated point of impact.
If the calculated path of the incoming rocket poses a real threat, a command is run to launch an interceptor against the threat. The incoming rocket is detonated over a neutral area.
Upgrades and further tests
The Iron Dome defence system has been upgraded to be able to deliver the capability to simultaneously shoot down multiple complex threats such as rockets, unmanned aerial vehicles, and missile salvoes. The technological upgrade was tested in a series of three tests, of which the latest test was performed in southern Israel in March 2021. The Iron Dome successfully intercepted and destroyed targets that simulated existing and emerging threats. Rafael and the Israeli Ministry of Defense will deliver the upgraded version to the IAF and the Israeli Navy for operational use.
Israel also performed a series of live-fire drills of a multi-layered air defence system using the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow weapon systems in December 2020.
International interest in the mobile air defence system
The new short-range missile defence system helps in protecting Nato forces positioned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Romania’s Romaero partnered with Rafael for cooperation in the production of the Iron Dome system in Romania in May 2018.
In August 2019, the US Army finalised a deal to purchase two Iron Dome systems. The delivery of the second battery to the US was completed in January 2021.
Azerbaijan and India also signed deals for the purchase of the missile system.
The Israeli Government is in talks with a number of European countries to explore the potential sale of the system.