Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system continues to break new ground with the completion of a series of advanced tests last week that showed it could simultaneously intercept multiple drones and a salvo of rockets. This is important because Iranian threats to countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, have included the use of drones combined with missiles.
On March 16, Israel’s Ministry of Defense said that it had completed the tests involving the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. Rafael developed Iron Dome and the system is celebrating ten years in operation in Israel with some 2,500 successful interceptions. Israel calls this latest advance a “leap forward.” The system has also added new capabilities that were announced in February 2021 and was involved in a multi-layered integrated air defense drill in December of 2020 alongside the David Sling and Arrow air defense systems which Israel uses.
“The technological capabilities developed by defense industries, including the Iron Dome and the multi-tier missile defense array, are central to the defense of the State of Israel,” said Israel’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz. “In the face of emerging and rapidly changing threats, these new capabilities provide the political echelon and defense establishment with the operational flexibility that is critical to our national security. I would like to thank the IMDO and Rafael engineering teams, thanks to them, the citizens of Israel can sleep peacefully at night.”
Israel carried out the tests in southern Israel. “This campaign, along with two recent Iron Dome flight tests, demonstrated a significant upgrade of the system’s technological capabilities. The Iron Dome was tested in a range of complex scenarios and successfully intercepted and destroyed targets simulating existing and emerging threats, including the simultaneous interception of multiple UAVs as well as a salvo of rockets and missiles,” Israel’s Ministry of Defense said.
The Israel Air Force (IAF) was involved in the tests and Israel says that the new version of the Iron Dome system will be delivered to the IAF and the Navy for operational use and will strengthen Israel’s multi-tier missile defense capabilities. Israel’s Iron Dome uses radar developed by Elta which is a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries. Iron Dome was initially developed to confront shorter range rocket threats of the types being fired by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. However, in recent years it reached new levels, not only with capabilities against drones and other threats, but it was also delivered to the United States Army. This makes it one of the most capable operational air defense systems in the world. It is also highly relevant because of the new threats that have developed in the Middle East, including the use of smaller rockets and drones to attack U.S. forces in Israel and Saudi Arabia’s energy installations. The Iranian-backed Houthis in Saudi Arabia have carried out increasing attacks on Saudi Arabian energy sites in 2021.
“Thirty years after the First Gulf War, which led to the establishment of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, and ten years after the Iron Dome’s first operational interception, we have achieved a significant leap forward in the technological capabilities of the Iron Dome system,” said the head of the Israel Missile Defense Organization in the Ministry of Defense, Moshe Patel. “In the three test campaigns conducted in the last few months, the Iron Dome system demonstrated outstanding capabilities against evolving threats, including successfully intercepting salvos of rockets and missiles as well as intercepting multiple UAVs simultaneously. The new configuration of the Iron Dome system will be delivered to the IAF and Navy for operational use, and will further strengthen the State of Israel’s multi-tier missile defense array.”
Rafael also praised its new achievements. “Rafael and the IMDO have been continuously upgrading Iron Dome’s capabilities over the last decade, constantly improving its technological and operational performance. Our forward-looking approach allows us to address projected threats that are emerging around us. The capabilities that were demonstrated in this last test will ensure additional protection to the State of Israel,” said Executive Vice President and General Manager of Rafael’s Air and Missile Defense Division, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Pini Yungman.
Seth J. Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based journalist who holds a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and a writing fellow at Middle East Forum. He is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (forthcoming Gefen Publishing). Follow him on Twitter at @sfrantzman.