Bad news for Hamas: Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense gets better every day.
So said a senior engineer with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Israeli company that developed Iron Dome. Iron Dome is a missile defence system that can intercept short-range missiles, rockets and even artillery shells, at close range and with only seconds of warning. Originally deployed in early 2011, the system came in for widespread global recognition during the week-long conflict between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas last month.
During the fighting, Hamas and other extremist groups bombarded Israel with hundreds of rockets. And Iron Dome blasted most of them out of the sky.
The exact figures are classified. “When I talk, I quote Wikipedia,” the engineer told me. “Of the roughly 1,500 rockets or short-range missiles fired at us, about a thousand weren’t a threat, anyway. They were heading for the sea or the desert. We ignored those. Of those 500 that were a threat, we shot down over 400 of them.” Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, cites the figure of 421 shoot-downs. Other media sources during the conflict reported that Iron Dome launches succeeded roughly 85% of the time.
The engineer added that after a few days of fighting, Israel changed its tactical doctrine: Iron Dome used to fire two interceptors at every rocket, in case the first missed. They quickly realized that was a waste. The system was good enough that if it wasn’t possible on the first shot, the second wouldn’t get it, either.
The engineer was authorized to speak but insisted on anonymity. “Quite a few Iranian scientists who had jobs similar to mine have gone to meet their maker,” he explained. “I’d rather avoid the same fate.”
But he didn’t hesitate to discuss the program that he’s been intimately involved with for years, and what went right (and wrong) with it. “We expected it to work perfectly,” he admitted. “We knew it wouldn’t, of course. But we wanted it to work 100% of the time. And every day, we tried to make it better.”
Every day of the conflict, military officers gave his company all of the data collected by Iron Dome computers and military radars for the last 24 hours. Rafael engineers would then work through the night, tweaking the software that controls Iron Dome. They’d turn the new software over to the military officers at the next meeting, then start looking over a fresh 24 hour’s worth of data.
It was exhausting for the relative handful of software engineers. But it worked. “The improvements were measurable,” the engineer told me. “It wasn’t dramatic. But we did a little bit better every day. The more rockets they fired at us, the better we got at shooting them down. By the end of the week, Iron Dome was better than it had been at the start. And it was pretty good, then, too.”
Soon, the engineer hopes, the system’s reliability will be limited only by the mechanical reliability of its various component parts. As long as the equipment works, they expect to hit their target every time.
The credit for this real-time evolution in the system goes not only to his company’s engineers, but the incredible co-operation Rafael had from the Israeli military. “I’ve worked on lots of projects,” the engineer told me. “I’d never seen it so good. We had the right personalities, on both sides, to make this happen.”
To illustrate how good the co-operation was, the engineer recounted how Israel added another battery of Iron Dome interceptors to Tel Aviv in the middle of the conflict. The disparate components of a full Iron Dome battery were assembled into a functional system in just two days, by a joint team of civilian engineers and soldiers who worked continuously until it was online. All previous batteries had taken two weeks to assemble and activate.
And they’re still working to improve the system. The engineers know Hamas and other extremist groups will be seeking a way to defeat Iron Dome. “It’s a zero-sum equation for [Hamas],” he said simply. “If we’re alive, they lose.”
But Iron Dome has already proven its worth. “It gave our politicians something they don’t usually have,” he said. “Options. We didn’t have to invade Gaza. We made them look powerless just by protecting ourselves. We won by surviving. And all the interceptors we fired cost less than one day of ground fighting in Gaza.”
That’s good news for Israel and its neighbours. The whole region is always one lucky shot by Hamas away from a major war – the rockets usually do no damage, but if they did hit something valuable, Israel would be compelled to respond with massive force. Iron Dome makes such tragedies less likely.
Hamas might not like to admit it, but Iron Dome saves Palestinian lives, too.
Source: NATIONAL POST