JERUSALEM — An upgraded version of the Iron Dome air defense system has reached a “significant milestone” after contending with advanced threats in a test, Israel’s Ministry of Defense announced Feb. 1.
The Iron Dome is part of Israel’s multilayered air defense and has been in service for a decade with more than 2,400 interceptions, mostly of projectiles launched from the Gaza Strip by militants. Two Iron Dome batteries were delivered to the U.S. Army in the last six months.
“The Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO), in the Directorate for Defense R&D of the Israel Ministry of Defense, and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems have completed a successful series of flight tests of the Iron Dome weapon system,” Israel’s Ministry of Defense said. “The Israeli Air Force (IAF) and Navy also participated in the test, which was conducted in a base in central Israel. The test campaign was held in a number of scenarios simulating advanced threats with which the Iron Dome is expected to contend during times of conflict — whether on land or in the sea.”
The new system is expected to be delivered to the Israel Air Force for operational use — though it’s unclear when — and then later installed on Israel’s new Sa’ar 6 corvette, which arrived last year from Germany. It is expected to equip this new class of warships, which will be equipped with a variety of advanced Israeli systems in the coming years.
The new ships are supposed to defend Israel’s exclusive economic zone off the country’s coast. Israel has expanded its infrastructure off the coast in the last several years due to natural gas discoveries in its exclusive economic zone, and the country signed a deal to build an Eastern Mediterranean pipeline to Greece via Cyprus last year. In the 2006 Lebanon war, the militant group Hezbollah fired a C-802 missile at a Sa’ar 5 ship. Egyptian and Saudi Arabian ships have also contended with anti-ship missile threats in recent years from Sinai and Yemen, respectively.
Israel’s Rafael would not elaborate on specifics of the test or the new capabilities. The ministry also would not provide further details beyond its statement.
Video released by the ministry showed the logos of the companies involved, including the prime contractor Rafael; IAI, whose subsidiary Elta Systems is the maker of the multimission radar; and mPrest, which produces the BMC command-and-control system.
The video also showed target drones launched over the water before Iron Dome intercepted them. It also showed several other quadcopter-style drones prior to takeoff, but it’s unclear if they were targets in the drill.
In mid-December, Israel launched an unprecedented integration test of its air defense systems, including Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow. During the test, Iron Dome was used to intercept cruise missiles — a new capability for the system. Drones and cruise missiles were used by Iran in September 2019 in an attack on Saudi Arabia, which led to concerns at the time over whether air defense systems were ready to confront drone swarm attacks or contend with slow and low-flying, maneuverable missiles.
Iron Dome has received U.S. funding that tops about $500 million annually for joint air defense projects with Israel. In August 2020, Rafael and American firm Raytheon Technologies agreed to a joint venture to build Iron Dome in the United States. The facility builds the system and its Tamir interceptor, which is called SkyHunter, in the U.S. At the time, the system was said to be capable of intercepting cruise missiles, unmanned aircraft, rockets, artillery and mortars.
When Israel completed the delivery of its second battery to the U.S. on Jan. 3, 2021, Israeli Defense Ministry Benny Gantz said he was “confident the system would assist the US Army in protecting American troops from ballistic and airborne threats as well as from developing threats in the areas where US troops are deployed on various missions.”
Subsequent reports in Israeli media hinted that the U.S. might deploy the system to the Gulf where it has bases. Israel’s MoD did not comment on the reports. The U.S. previously sent Patriot batteries as well as counter-rocket, artillery and mortar systems to defend against threats in the Gulf region.
Seth Frantzman has been covering conflict in the Middle East since 2010 as a researcher, analyst and correspondent for different publications. He has experience covering the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is a co-founder and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.