What's wrong with Israel's Iron Dome ABM defense system?

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst   |   March 12, 2009 at 3:43 PM

WASHINGTON, March 12 (UPI) -- What is wrong with Israel's Iron Dome very-short-range anti-ballistic missile defense system? It was supposed to go into service in mid-2010 to defend the north and south of the country against the already very real threat of intense rocket bombardment from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite Party of God in Southern Lebanon, and from Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement in Gaza.

But Iron Dome is now months, possibly years behind schedule, and critics say the very assumptions it was based on were unsustainable from the very start.

The latest annual report by Israel's State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has documented endless delays, indecision, go-it-alone chaotic planning and sheer bureaucratic incompetence by the Israeli air force and the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak over the past three years.

Iron Dome's cost has soared by 40 percent over only eight months, Haaretz reported last week.

Lindenstrauss's report "reveals a worrying picture of bureaucratic confusion, wasted money and broken rules," analyst Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz on March 4. "The bottom line: The Iron Dome system is still far from completion, and Israel still has no effective defense against short-range rockets."

Harel said the Israeli Defense Ministry's controversial Administration for the Development of Weapons "began full-scale development before the Israel Defense Forces had determined the system's operational requirements and before either the IDF or the cabinet had approved it, even though each Iron Dome system costs billions of shekels."

Lindenstrauss concluded in his report that even when completed, Iron Dome "does not satisfy all the operational needs in the optimal manner." Harel added that the system has wasted both time and money.

Worse yet, far more potentially effective and very different American defense systems -- the Vulcan Phalanx gun and the Northrop Grumman Nautilus/Skyguard laser -- were rejected out of hand as "not invented here" so that development funds for Iron Dome could go to the Israeli-based aerospace and high-tech defense giant Rafael.

The central problem with Iron Dome is that even when -- or if -- it is finally completed and deployed, each of its interceptors will cost vastly more than the very low-tech homemade Qassam rockets from Gaza and multiple-launch rocket mortars from Southern Lebanon they are meant to intercept.

For a tiny nation like Israel with limited resources and major population centers within range of these threats, budgetary resources are always going to be limited, however much help the United States can give.

Israeli government officials have told United Press International that up to 50,000 rocket projectiles are currently targeted at the Jewish state on all sides, including Hezbollah's multiple rocket mortars and Hamas' Qassams. Even if Iron Dome works perfectly, it is never going to have the firepower in interceptors to credibly intercept most, let alone all, of that ordnance.

The Iron Dome very-short-range interceptors are designed to destroy missiles fired from a range of approximately 3 to 24 miles, and the David's Sling system to intercept ballistic missiles with a range of 24 to 150 miles.

The Israel Defense Forces said they have already tested the system successfully several times.

Barak has made the successful development of Iron Dome and its sister David's Sling/Magic Wand program to produce an interceptor capable of defending against missiles with a 24- to 150-mile range his top priority over the past two years.

However, as of today, Hamas continues to fire its low-tech Qassams into the settlements and towns of southern Israel with impunity, and short of launching another costly major military operation such as it did at the beginning of this year, Israel has no credible defense available. Iron Dome is nowhere near being deployed.

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(Part 2: Betting on America's Phalanx)

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