Having been developed in some urgency, Rafael’s Iron Dome dual-mission defense system is now operational, and in April an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) battery proved its worth for the first time when several Grad rockets were intercepted after launch from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel. The IDF currently has two batteries in place, protecting the cities of Ashkalod and Be’er Sheva, and is in production with another four or five batteries to widen the area that can be protected.
Ultimately Israel hopes to have 10 to 15 batteries and plans to invest nearly $1 billion in the program. At least $205 million of that is coming from the U.S., that amount being allocated by Congress toward Iron Dome development and production in April.
Development of Iron Dome began in January 2008 to meet a variety of threats. It can be used in the V-SHORAD role against traditional air threats and as a counter-rockets-and-mortar (C-RAM) system. Each battery has 20 Tamir interceptor vehicles and can be carried on military vehicles for rapid redeployment. With the battery in place and communications antennas raised, the system can be linked to the command/control network and be ready to fire in around two minutes.
Targets can be engaged at ranges from four to at least 70 kilometers, and the interceptor is designed to destroy the incoming threat rather than deflect it, an important consideration when the threat of chemical and biological warheads is present. The system can launch multiple interceptors to handle salvo attacks.
Iron Dome has aroused significant interest around the world, including that from the U.S. The recent operational debut has underlined the successful test campaign, which has achieved 100 percent success so far in nearly 40 launches against a wide range of threat types.
Israel is implementing a three-layered air defense system to protect its territory. Iron Dome forms the lower tier of the system, while IAI’s Arrow defends the upper tier. Occupying the middle zone will be the David’s Sling ballistic missile defense system, codeveloped by Rafael as prime contractor with Raytheon, and on behalf of both the Israel Missile Defense Organization and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.
David’s Sling employs a two-stage Stunner hit-to-kill interceptor with radar and electro-optical guidance, offering a range of up to 170 kilometers. Five flight tests have been undertaken so far to test the interceptor’s control system, the most recent in January. Later this year Rafael and Raytheon will conduct the first intercept tests. Around nine such trials are planned and they will include multiple launches. Initial operational capability for David’s Sling is set for the end of 2012, and Rafael expects to receive a low-rate-initial-production contract in the coming months.
Iron Dome and David’s Sling are both IDF programs, but with significant export potential. Rafael has also developed a mobile air defense system aimed at export customers, under the acronym Spyder (Surface-to-air Python DERby). As its name suggests, it is based on the company’s Derby active-radar guided missile and similar Python 5 weapon with imaging infra-red seeker, which were initially developed for air-launched employment.
Rafael has developed two Spyder systems. Spyder SR is a short-range, 360-degree, slant-launched system with a five-second reaction time, while Spyder MR is a vertical-launched medium-range system with two-second reaction time. Both are self-propelled and capable of fully networked operation. Spyder has been selected by a number of armed forces, including India, which already uses Derby in its air-to-air application.