TEL AVIV – Despite widespread global interest and reputed export sales to countries from East Asia to the Arabian Gulf, Israel's Iron Dome anti-rocket intercepting system has not yet been sold to a single customer, government and industry sources say.
That's primarily because few countries in the world face the persistent threat of rocket barrages the way Israel does, sources here say.
Developed by state-owned Rafael Ltd., Iron Dome has garnered extraordinary name recognition across the globe for operational successes in defending against Gaza-launched rockets.
Since first fielded in 2011, Iron Dome has been credited with more than 1500 operational intercepts; a success rate of some 90 percent when measured against the number of rockets designated by the system as imminent threats to people or property.
"Who else in the world is constantly threatened by rockets? It's essentially only us and perhaps sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf, where for obvious reasons, we do not yet export," said Uzi Rubin, a veteran missile defense expert and former head of Israel's Missile Defense Organization.
Rafael executives say they aim to change the "no sales yet" status of Iron Dome through an expanded mission set, including sea-based defense, drone killing missions and the ability to intercept anything from mortars to precision-guided munitions (PGMs).
"What the world has seen so far with Iron Dome is just the tip of the iceberg. Its footprint is much larger and its multi-mission versatility is much broader than anything we've seen in action," said Rafael executive Ari Sacher.
In recent months, a sea-based version of the system, called C-Dome, was successfully tested on one of the Israel Navy's EL/M-2048 Adir radar-equipped Sa'ar-5 corvettes.
Rear Adm. Yossi Ashkenazi, head of the Israel Navy's Materiel Command, said the service plans to equip Sa'ar-6 combat vessels now under construction in Germany and two older Sa'ar-5 corvettes with the sea-based Iron Dome.
In April, Rafael and its US partner Raytheon Missile Systems Co. scored their first intercepts outside of Israel in a US Army test at White Sands, New Mexico. In that test, the Iron Dome's Tamir missile was launched from a US Army Multi-Mission Launcher against a target drone, which was completely destroyed.
Raytheon co-produces major parts of Iron Dome's Tamir interceptors in the United States under a work-share arrangement mandated in exchange for US production funds. The two firms also have a teaming agreement whereby Raytheon co-markets Iron Dome for prospective sales in the US and select target markets.
In parallel, Rafael is working with Raytheon to market the US Army-tested Tamir interceptor integrated into the service's Multi-Mission Launcher under a program called Sky Hunter.
In an interview at Rafael corporate headquarters here, Sacher said the Iron Dome's Tamir interceptors could be integrated into radars, launchers and control systems of interested countries for a multitude of missions.
"Sky Hunter and C-Dome are just two examples of how users can avail themselves of our very inexpensive, proven Tamir interceptors, which are launcher agnostic, radar agnostic and control system agnostic," Sacher said.
"There is tremendous interest in C-Dome against modern naval threats. We're offering essentially the same proven interceptor and the same proven system, except it's on a ship," he said.
The Rafael executive also noted that in tests, Iron Dome destroyed salvos of artillery shells and "multiple" PGMs similar to those of the US Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM).
"If someone tries to launch a JDAM at you and you have Iron Dome protecting a forward operating base, you can take out that JDAM," he said.
"What we've done in tests, which most people don't know, is we've destroyed salvos of artillery shells. These are really difficult to destroy because they are so thick and you have to penetrate the metal casings before you get to the warhead. But we did it. We whacked artillery shells with Iron Dome."
With respect to the proliferating threat of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Sacher said Iron Dome's powerful warhead can "rip a UAV apart."
Sacher said the warhead designed for Tamir is much larger than the five- to seven-kilo warheads featured on most air-to-air missiles, such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder.
"Most of the interceptors are based on air-to-air weapons, with their relatively small warheads. So if a Sidewinder (AIM-9) missile can take out a UAV, we can totally rip a UAV apart."
In tests, said Sacher, "Iron Dome has turned UAVs into UAV juice."
He added, "With such versatility, why use Iron Dome only against ballistic rockets?"
In recent years, press reports and social media have flagged Iron Dome sales to India, Singapore, South Korea and even one member of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Neither Sacher nor other Rafael executives interviewed agreed to clarify the often conflicting reports dating back years.
But in an interview earlier this month, an Israeli Defense Ministry official said Iron Dome has "not yet been sold." The official said MoD was working with Rafael and other relevant parties to score its first export contract.
"We're making efforts to market and advance this system," the MoD official said.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.