PARIS, France — Rafael, as well as its U.S. partner Raytheon, have been on a campaign to find ways for Iron Dome, an air defense system which has been operational in Israel for many years, to play in the U.S. market and is particularly targeting some emerging and urgent U.S. Army requirements as possible avenues.
The U.S. has invested heavily in Israeli defense systems, including Iron Dome, for many years and Rafael and Raytheon share in the manufacturing of the system, where part of it is built in the U.S. and part in Israel.
Iron Dome was fielded in 2011 in Israel and has since intercepted 1,700 rocket, artillery and mortar threats with a greater than 90 percent success rate, according to Raytheon.
The U.S. Army has been in the market for an interim short-range air defense system that can keep up with the maneuver force.
At Eursatory, June 11, Rafael pitched I-Dome, an all-in-one integrated Iron Dome system that fits the launcher, radar, and command and control capabilities onto one vehicle platform, enhancing its mobility.
While the model at its booth was on heavy tactical truck, I-Dome could be integrated onto a Stryker, the Army’s chosen platform for the interim M-SHORAD solution, just as easily, Pini Yungman, Rafael’s executive vice president and general manager of the company’s air superiority systems division, told Defense News in a June 11 interview at the French defense show.
The system is very flexible. The launcher can adjust in size and the system can incorporate other desired radars or anything else that might be preferred for a custom version of Iron Dome, Yungman said. Iron Dome has even been tested from an Israeli naval vessel.
Iron Dome was demonstrated at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, last September as a possible SHORAD solution.
In the test at White Sands, Iron Dome took on several types of simulated aircraft targets and unmanned aerial vehicles as well as two live UAV targets. The system successfully destroyed them both at the maximum range allowed, Mitch Stevinson, vice president of Raytheon’s air and missile defense systems, told Defense News.
And while details on what the Army wants for its interim SHORAD solution besides the platform haven’t been determined yet, Rafael would be able to more than meet the requirements to provide systems within a year or two from now, Yungman said.
Interim cruise missile defense
The rumor mill was rich with the possibility that Iron Dome was being pitched to serve as an interim capability for the U.S. Army’s Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2, but Army leaders in air and missile defense at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium in March said they were sticking to their plan to field IFPC in roughly 2023 and were focused on that mission.
IFPC will be able to defend against rockets, artillery and mortars but has been prioritized to defeat unmanned aircraft systems and cruise missiles.
And while the pitch to use Iron Dome as an interim system for IFPC seemed to come from left field, the Senate Armed Services Committee included language in the draft of its defense authorization bill released last week that calls for an interim system to defend against cruise missiles.
Lawmakers would give the secretary of defense 30 days following the bill’s enactment to answer to the committee whether to deploy an interim cruise missile defense capability. But the language goes on to instruct the Army to deploy an interim, fixed cruise missile defense capability in anticipation of delivery of the Army’s IFPC.
Senators want two batteries no later than September, 30, 2020, and two additional batteries by Sept. 30, 2023. Deployment would be in “significant” fixed sites in Europe and Asia to protect bases and locations against cruise missile threats.
The House Armed Services Committee had similar language requesting the Army experiment with Iron Dome through demonstrations to assess the operational suitability for air and missile defense at fixed and semi-fixed sites and for M-SHORAD.
Both Rafael and Raytheon have confirmed that the system has been offered to fill in until IFPC Inc. 2’s cruise missile capability becomes operational.
Rafael’s Yungman said that there have been government to government discussions about the possibility. He said the first step would probably be to provide the original Iron Dome system and the next step would be to integrate the SkyHunter (Iron Dome’s name in the U.S.) into an American system using an American radar and command and control system.
Yungman said it would be easy to integrate.
Raytheon’s Stevinson noted in written responses to Defense News questions that the Iron Dome has a 360-degree capable radar that is operational but is also compatible with the Sentinel radar as well as other sensors such as 3DELRR.
One Iron Dome battery is already in the states after the SHORAD demo at White Sands that would be provided and the rest of the batteries, likely three more, would be sent over from Israel.
Stevinson said that Iron Dome could be available in 10 months and the U.S. version — SkyHunter — could be available in two years.
An added benefit would be the ability for Rafael and Raytheon to offset some of the government cost to qualify its Tamir interceptor used in Iron Dome as a second missile for IFPC Inc. 2 because of its use in an interim Iron Dome solution, according to Yungman. The Army has already launched a competition to qualify a second interceptor under the Expanded Mission Area Missile (EMAM) program.
Tamir was submitted to that competition. It has already been fired from the U.S. Army’s internally developed Multi-Mission launcher — part of the IFPC program.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.