Iron Dome’s command-and-control systems upgrades account for new types of weapons, tactical changes and new launch vectors. Analysts also prepared for this missile offensive by monitoring tests of new, longer-range Hamas missiles months ago in a series of launches from Gaza into the sea.
Overall, most of the rockets fired by Hamas fall to the ground just beyond the Israeli border after a short flight. Of those that manage to go deeper into the Israel, the percentage that have to be intercepted is actually higher than those fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon in 2006 and by Hamas from Gaza in 2009, say Israeli analysts.
Moreover, the precision of Hamas rockets has improved since they are being hurtled primarily using prepositioned, buried launchers rather than truck-mounted multiple launchers placed with less accurate launch coordinates.
“Iron Dome was originally designed to defend against artillery rockets,” the Rafael official says. “Now it can do much more. We can kill 155-mm [artillery] shells, glide bombs, precision-guided munitions, short-range air defense missiles that target helicopters and unmanned aircraft.” The only exception appears to be shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles.
Hamas and other Jihadist groups have been receiving missiles from Sudan and Iran via a smuggling routes that wind through Port Sudan and Khartoum into southern Egypt and then across the Sinai. A suspected Israeli air raid on Khartoum Oct. 24 destroyed rockets and other weapons packed for shipment (AW&ST Nov. 5/12, p. 35). Sudan President Omar al-Bashir then declared he would launch a “painful” retaliation on his “Zionist enemy” for the attack. The missile attacks from Gaza escalated soon after.
The defense ministry says Iron Dome’s range is 70 km (44 mi.), though both Israeli and U.S. officials think it is much longer. It is the third element of a defense against short-range missiles that begins with a long-term, airborne surveillance program, followed by bombing of detected sites once missile attacks begin.
Israeli Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) Elta electronics division is a big player in advanced radars and other sensor technology that help the air force know where to strike in Gaza.
“We are building the sensors to support our systems—everything that is receiving and transmitting—in the area of radar, electronic warfare and communications,” says Baruch Reshef, Elta’s deputy director of group marketing. “Those sensors allow the [Israeli air force] to collect “electronic order of battle, network analyses, mapping emission and determine who is talking to who and where.”
To make detection tougher, Hamas missiles are sometimes installed on or in commercial vehicles. Israeli officials have shown Aviation Week photographs of dump trucks fitted with 4-6 launch tubes—when the truck beds are raised to the dumping position, the tubes are revealed. Other sites are simply holes in the ground near the Israeli border where trucks with missile launchers can be parked and covered with netting until needed. They can launch Fajr-3, Fajr-5 and Grad missiles, among other types, that Hamas and others have learned to fire in salvoes in an attempt to overwhelm Israeli missile defenses.
Israel has extended and better integrated its intelligence-gathering reach with its new “Depth Command” that involves operations beyond its borders. It involves various types of long-endurance manned and unmanned aircraft. IAO-built Heron I UAVs have been photographed monitoring the fighting in Syria, for example.