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March 21, 2012 5:28 pm

Iron Dome’s Cost-Effectiveness

avatar by Lakkana Nanayakkara

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Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system in use against Palestinian rocket. Photo: IDF.

Israel’s missile defense apparatus includes the David’s Sling, Arrow and Iron Dome systems. While David’s Sling is expected to become operational in 2013 and is “…capable of engaging aircraft, cruise missiles, ballistic and guided missiles as well as long range ballistic rockets,” The Arrow is designed to intercept medium range missiles.

The Iron Dome is described by its manufacturer, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd, as being able to counter “…short range rockets and 155 mm artillery shell threats with ranges of up to 70 km in all weather conditions…” but does not attempt to intercept missiles falling into unpopulated areas.

The United States has provided “$400 million toward developing and producing the system since 2007″ and Israel is considering exporting Iron Dome batteries to fund even more production of Iron Dome batteries for domestic use.

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Iron Dome is the world’s first combat proven Counter-Rocket, Artillery & Missile (C-RAM) missile system. The IDF claims that the three Iron Dome batteries deployed in southern Israel “knocked out close to 90 percent of the short-range Qassam and longer-range…Grad rockets”, which were launched from Gaza recently. The IDF plans to have up to nine Iron Dome batteries operational by mid-2013.

Even though Iron Dome can successfully deal with rockets fired from Gaza, it is unlikely to have the same rate of success in a future war against Hezbollah and Iran. Hezbollah and Iran are believed to possess missiles that can target most of Israel. Iron Dome is not designed to intercept large long-range missiles like the David’s Sling and Arrow systems. Both David’s Sling and Arrow are reportedly not yet operational.

Each Iron Dome system “costs more than $100 million” and “each Iron Dome anti-missile missile costs $50,000.” Meanwhile the “primitive” Kassam rocket costs Palestinian terrorists “only a few hundred dollars”.

In a “nightmare scenario” envisioned by the IDF, Israel could be hit by up to 400 missiles daily. Intercepting 400 missiles would cost Israel at least $20 million daily. The 2006 war against Hezbollah lasted 34 days and if a future war lasts that long, intercepting all the missiles would cost more than $700 million, assuming a 90% interception rate. This is in addition to the approximately one billion dollars that would cost to build 9 Iron Dome batteries by 2013.

A recent Jerusalem Post article justifies the use of Iron Dome by listing its benefits. These include saving lives, preventing damage to property and potential profits from exporting Iron Dome systems. This article also mentions that Palestinian terrorists will be exposed to Israeli helicopters and planes when firing rockets. However, intercepting a $800 Kassam rocket with a $50,000 Iron Dome missile does not make financial sense, especially if Israel had to intercept hundreds or thousands of missiles. In other words, Israel would have to spend more than $60 for every $1 spent by Palestinian terrorists.

A Heritage Foundation article dated September 2011, makes a comprehensive argument that the Iron Dome interceptor missile does not have to be cheaper than the enemy missile to be cost-effective. Since rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists are not accurate, Iron Dome only needs to intercept approximately 20% of the incoming missiles. This article also mentions that valuable targets protected by Iron Dome, cost more than the Iron Dome interceptor missiles; although no figures are provided to back up this claim. Iron Dome provides Israel with diplomatic and military options when responding to a rocket barrage. In the past Israel was faced with the option of either absorbing the rocket barrage or conducting a military offensive in response to the rocket barrage.

The increasing range and frequency of rockets being fired from Gaza, is the result of Ariel Sharon’s disastrous decision to withdraw from Gaza. In addition to creating several other problems for Israel, the Gaza withdrawal has allowed Hamas to continue smuggling weapons. Instead of trying to find creative solutions to rocket fire by building systems such as Iron Dome, Israel would be better off trying to find a permanent solution. The permanent solution would be to re-create the situation that existed in Gaza prior to 2005. If there is a permanent IDF presence in Gaza, especially along the border with Egypt, Hamas will not be able to smuggle weapons or fire rockets into Israel. Then the construction and maintenance of expensive anti-missile systems would not be necessary. Otherwise Hamas will continue to smuggle weapons into Gaza and the new Egyptian government which is clearly hostile to Israel, is unlikely to take any action to stop it. The IDF will then be forced to develop increasingly more sophisticated anti-missile systems to deal with a growing missile threat from Gaza.

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