Over the past few days the idea to find out how Israel’s Iron Dome works filled my curiosity. The Iron Dome missile defense system has gained much hype in the news and media. It has been very popular to have blocked most of the rockets fired by Hamas into the Israeli territory during an Israeli-Palestinian conflict last year. According to the news reports the Hamas fired around more than 1500 rockets into Israel last summer and most of them either detonated in uninhabited places or were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. News reports show that the successful interception rate of the iron dome has been as high as 95% in certain cases. Given such a high success rate one can naturally get curious to find out how the missile system actually works. What follows below is a reflection on the workings of the iron dome missile defense system.
The iron dome, which is actually not a dome of sorts but a full-fledged missile defense system, has three major components.
- A radar tracking station.
- A control center.
- A few missile batteries.
It is interesting to understand how each one of these disparate systems work. The overall iron dome is a conglomerate of these three subsystems. Let us try to understand what each of these subsystems does one by one.
The job of the The Radar Tracking Station is to detect when a missile is fired. The radar is especially designed to track small, fast-moving objects.
Meaningful data from the radar tracking system is passed on to the Control Center. A team of military personnel assess the lethality of this projectile. More specifically, it is assayed that whether the projectile fired from across the border is going to hit an inhabited area or would it explode elsewhere, thus causing no harm to human life and valuable infrastructure. In the former case it is decided to let the projectile land and it is not intercepted. If it is found that the projectile could cause any harm to life and valuable property a decision is made to intercept it. The missiles used by the iron dome are quite precious. So, only those projectiles are intercepted that would potentially hit the populated areas.
When it is crucial to intercept a projectile a command is sent to the Iron Dome Missile Batteries, with instructions on how to hit the missile. The missile batteries then fire a Tamir missile that hit and detonate the projectile while it is airborne.
It is actually the Tamir missile interceptors that do most of the magic. Being missiles, they have their own guidance systems. Due to the short distances involved in the region, they do not only have to be accurate, they also have to be quite fast. And they are indeed quite fast and accurate and it takes them only between two to three minutes to detonate a projectile. They also have the ability to hit rockets that have a range between four to seventy kilometers.
The impetus for developing the iron dome came from the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 when the former fired thousands of rockets into northern Israel. It took Israel only four years to build the whole system and it was u and running in the last years conflict between Israel and Hamas.
This is a very simple summary of how the Iron Dome actually works. There are more curious questions about the iron dome, particularly about how the guidance systems of the Tamir interceptors work. I hope to be able to reflect on that in my next couple of posts.
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