A Tamir interceptor launches from truck-mounted Iron Dome launcher.

WASHINGTON: Despite the US Army’s deep ambivalence about Iron Dome, which Congress compelled it to buy, the Army has officially created the new units to operate the Israeli-made anti-rocket system.

One battery currently operates Theater High-Altitude Air Defense — THAAD — which as its name implies is designed to shoot down high-flying, long-range missiles and aircraft. By contrast, Iron Dome is best known for its success against short-range, unguided rockets, although it has some capability against cruise missiles. The THAAD battery will have to be reequipped, reorganized and retrained. The second Iron Dome battery looks like it’ll be created from scratch, in part by transferring personnel now assigned to the Air Defense Artillery School at Fort Sill, OKla.

Both Iron Dome batteries will be based at Fort Bliss.

The Iron Dome equipment for the first battery was formally “delivered” to the US Army in September. But that ceremonial hand-off was held at manufacturer Rafael’s facility in Israel. The Army wouldn’t reveal the current location of the weapons, citing security concerns. But a spokesman told me that the first battery would receive its Iron Dome hardware “before the end of this year” and the second “in early 2021.” (That confirms what the Army’s missile defense modernization director told us back in August).

An An-225 jet transport offloads an Oshkosh military truck at Ben Gurion Airport, delivering it to Rafael so it can be used to transport Iron Dome (Credit: Israel Airports Authority)

Iron Dome’s official US Army designation is the Interim Indirect Fire Protection Capability. IFPC “Increment 2” is the Army’s home-grown solution to the rocket and cruise missile threat, still in development after problems led to the program being overhauled last year. An impatient Congress ordered the Army to buy two batteries of the much-hyped Iron Dome as a stopgap, with more Israeli weapons to follow if IFPC Inc 2 doesn’t deliver. Rafael is expanding its US operations and wants to co-produce Iron Dome in this country with Raytheon.

The Senate Appropriations Committee wants to cut development funding for IFPC Inc 2 development in 2021 by almost one third, to $161.9 million even as it pluses up other missile defense programs.

Why did the Army resist the Israeli Iron Dome? Part of it is a classic bureaucratic case of “not invented here.” (See the Army’s long resistance to MEADS). But the more substantive problem is that Iron Dome is a fully integrated system – radars, launchers, missiles, command posts, etc. – that isn’t built to work with US Army command-and-control networks. By contrast, IFPC Inc 2 is being designed to work with the Army’s forthcoming IBCS command system, which can pass targeting data from any radar to any launcher – as long as they’re both IBCS-compatible, which Iron Dome is not.

The Army’s acquisition chief, Bruce Jett, told he encourages Rafael to enter the interceptor fired by Iron Dome, the Tamir missile, in a “shoot off” next year to test potential ammo loads for IFPC Inc 2. But the Army doesn’t want to have to keep buying the fully integrated Iron Dome batteries. It’s also skeptical about the Israeli system’s battlefield mobility and its effectiveness against cruise missiles.(D.S.).


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