Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Military Politics Technology

A Skeptical View of Israel's Iron Dome Rocket Defense System 379

Posted by timothy
from the big-badda-boom dept.
Lasrick (2629253) writes It isn't as if real analysis of Israel's "Iron Dome" isn't available, but invariably, whenever Israel has a skirmish the media is filled with glowing reports of how well the system works, and we always find out months later that the numbers were exaggerated. John Mecklin at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists looks at the coverage of Iron Dome in the recent exchanges between Israel and Hamas and finds the pattern is repeating itself. However, 'Ted Postol, an MIT-based missile defense expert and frequent Bulletin contributor, provided a dose of context to the Iron Dome coverage in a National Public Radio interview Wednesday. "We can tell, for sure, from video images and even photographs that the Iron Dome system is not working very well at all,"' Includes a good explanation of the differences between Iron Dome (a 'rocket defense system') and missile defense systems pushed by the U.S.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

A Skeptical View of Israel's Iron Dome Rocket Defense System

Comments Filter:
  • Subject bait (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vivaoporto (1064484) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @01:38PM (#47438549)
    This post (like the one with the Brazuca for the World Cup) is certainly subject bait. It works because it attracts lots of tangentially on topic comments but that doesn't have anything to do with the subject matter of the article.

    So please, don't fall for it. Don't spend the whole comment section arguing about causes and consequences of the conflict, who started it, who deserves is, etc.

    Stay on topic and discuss the technical aspects of the missile system, at least that is what should be discussed here.

    On bizarro world Slashdot, maybe ...
    • It's Bush's fault.

    • Re:Subject bait (Score:5, Informative)

      by doomer (2026902) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:15PM (#47438703)
      I worked on the beginning of Regan's Star Wars project. We viewed the problem as one in which you try to stop a bullet with a bullet. Add long range and intelligence to the bullet and the problem gets harder.The problem is hard and physics places many constraints on the solution. At one point management thought that space based defense was what we wanted until we showed that the time/distances were too great to be effective. Now we just have a scaled back terminal defense with very limited capabilities. After all these years the only value that I think that missile defense has is PR. Effective? Not really. Forget Star Wars the movie. It's not going to happen.
      • by Chrisq (894406) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:30PM (#47438773)

        I worked on the beginning of Regan's Star Wars project. We viewed the problem as one in which you try to stop a bullet with a bullet. Add long range and intelligence to the bullet and the problem gets harder.The problem is hard and physics places many constraints on the solution. At one point management thought that space based defense was what we wanted until we showed that the time/distances were too great to be effective. Now we just have a scaled back terminal defense with very limited capabilities. After all these years the only value that I think that missile defense has is PR. Effective? Not really. Forget Star Wars the movie. It's not going to happen.

        Except perhaps in a galaxy far, far away

      • Re:Subject bait (Score:5, Insightful)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @03:02PM (#47438915) Journal
        In the case of SDI the PR might actually be worse than useless (playing mutually-assured-destruction isn't much fun to begin with; but if one or both sides come to believe the hype about a missile defense system things could really go downhill). In the case of 'iron dome', though, it might actually be helpful. Barring fairly substantial increases in rocket construction expertise, or acquisition of something particularly nasty to fill them with, the attacks it is supposed to defeat are only modestly dangerous; but extremely inflammatory.

        Given how lousy the alternatives for appearing to be taking action against the rocket menace are (grovelling through every last hidy-hole in Gaza is militarily doable but a PR debacle and unlikely to turn up more than a few bits and pieces of impoverished machine tools, because low-end rockets just aren't that hard to build. Paying Hezbollah a visit might turn up somewhat more interesting stuff; but that hasn't turned out well in the past) a system that postpones or prevents somebody taking the bait and trying them might be quite helpful.
        • by doomer (2026902)
          We also speculated that our effort with lots of new parking lots and the building of large tempest proof buildings visible from space by the USSR was a key goal of the administration. At the start we had lots of true believers and we thought that all we had to do was to build it. It took some time to the techs to realize that physics would severely constrain us, but it was not something that we ever admitted officially. After all this was Regan's signature project. Perhaps the USSR did not know this and too
        • Re:Subject bait (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Rei (128717) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @09:34PM (#47440537) Homepage

          No, in the case of Iron Dome, that's only PR too. They're shooting $50k+ missiles at $800 rockets. Even after factoring in that Israel's per-capita GDP is 20 times that of Palestine's, that's still a losing proposition, even *if* they had a 100% hit rate (which this article is suggesting it's anything-but) and assuming that you get the launcher, radar, etc for free instead of the actual $55 million per unit. It's in Palestine's best interests that Israel deploy as many of them as possible and try to shoot down every last rocket, because every shekel they spend on Iron Domes and missiles is a shekel they don't spend on jets, tanks, and bombs.

      • Re:Subject bait (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Blaskowicz (634489) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @04:33PM (#47439311)

        Forget Star Wars the movie anyway. Vader royally fucked up on planet Hoth, seemed to have an overwhelming position but for some reason he decides to go on foot to capture Luke & Leia personnally. But everyone manages to escape and the scary star destroyers in orbit don't manage to destroy or stop any ship. The star destroyers are managed by grossly incompetent captains.. But even with such idiots at the bar, victory would have been certain would all the ships and stuff have burnt the rebel place to the ground with a giant laser/blaster/plasma massacre.

        As for the first movie, it has manually aimed WW2-style air defences ;). "The rebel fighters are too small for our turbolasers", or something like that.
        Star Wars is about resistance/terrorists defeating an evil military industrial empire that suffers from royal fuck ups and ineffective pork barrel weapon projects.

    • by istartedi (132515)

      I can't help but picture a sign on the door at the exit of an airport in Israel. It reads "Thank-you for not stirring up ancient inter-tribal conflict".

      I think you're post will be as effective as such a hypothetical sign; but thanks for trying. X --+ (Don Quixote's lance and a windmill).

    • Re:Subject bait (Score:4, Informative)

      by dotancohen (1015143) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:20PM (#47438717) Homepage

      Stay on topic and discuss the technical aspects of the missile system, at least that is what should be discussed here.
       

      I live in Beersheba. Of the two hundred or so rockets shot at my city in the past week, we had our first casualty yesterday: an 80 year old woman was injured when a rocket fell outside her house. So far as I know (by hearing the different booms of both successful hits and Iron Dome intercepts) this was only the fourth or fifth rocket to get past the Iron Dome into the city. I'll ask my daughters tomorrow morning: they are the ones keeping score of the booms that they hear.

      So from a technical point of view, the Iron Dome is very effective.

      That doesn't mean that the rockets have no effect on us, even if they are not blowing up our houses. We _still_ have 60 seconds to get ourselves and the children to shelter 2 or 3 times per night when they shoot at us and the alarms go off, so nobody is getting any sleep. All other aspects of life are "get ourselves and the children in 60 seconds" so that means that working is affected, shopping for food is affected, going to the toilet is affected, walking the dog is affected, etc.

      We still have it better than the Gazans, though. They do not have alarms, their only warning is pamphlets dropped from F16s telling them to evacuate buildings used to launch rockets at Israel before they are destroyed. Unfortunately, a large part of their populate screems "Shahid" and actually invite the neighbours over to be a part of "protecting" by being in the building before it is bombed. I understand that their values and their culture is different than ours, but I still feel bad for the children who have to be a part of the "be a Martyr" culture, not the "save yourselves" culture. I really do feel pity for them.

      I understand that of the 120+ people killed in Gaza in the past week, about 20 were civilians (not militants). Israelis mourn those casualties just as we mourn our own. I understand that there is no 100% effective way to remove the Hamas without injuring the civilians, but that does not belittle thier casualties in any way. As an Israeli and a neighbour of Gaza I tell you: pity the Gazans.

      • by jandersen (462034)

        Hmm, let me see; during this recent exchange, how many Israelies were killed or injured? You mention 1 elderly lady, so that is 1 that I have heard of so far. You also mention 20 civilians in Gaza, but in the same breath imply that it is probably their own fault. Now, if you step back a bit and look at what you are saying, can you understand why so many people in the rest of the world feel less than convinced of your sincerity?

        You guys enjoy the protection of the US, you have overwhelming, technological adv

    • I hereby declare this the best comment of the thread.

    • Re:Subject bait (Score:5, Interesting)

      by wagnerrp (1305589) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @03:46PM (#47439119)

      Stay on topic and discuss the technical aspects of the missile system, at least that is what should be discussed here.

      The article itself hardly touches on the technical merits of the missile system. It mentions how there are hardly any public releases of technical aspect to discuss, and that the handful of images of the system in operation show intercept angles that are highly unlikely to be successful. The core argument of the article is that the whole situation is nothing more than a PR campaign on both sides.

      Hamas fires inaccurate artillery rockets, unlikely to actually hit anything, at Israel, under the hopes Israel counter-attacks and causes lots of collateral damage that looks bad to international press.

      Israel produces a defense system and makes precision counter-attacks to prove their technological and military prowess, and restraint in its use, to international press.

      • Hamas fires inaccurate artillery rockets, unlikely to actually hit anything

        Huh? What are you smoking? They're 100% gaurunteed to hit something as what goes up must come down. The problem they pose to Israel is that the something their going to hit is somewhere in a crowded city, meaning potential civilian casualties.

    • by ultranova (717540)

      Don't spend the whole comment section arguing about causes and consequences of the conflict, who started it, who deserves is, etc.

      Stay on topic and discuss the technical aspects of the missile system, at least that is what should be discussed here.

      Why? Surely analysing the mechanisms of society and their failure modes are far more deserving of the title "stuff that matters" than the mechanisms of systems used in the resulting mess. Or do you have some kind of ulterior motive to keep this conflict from bein

  • by trdtaylor (2664195) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @01:43PM (#47438569)

    The rockets being sent against Israel are small, sporadic, unguided, and mostly lack the range to hit major population centers (Tel Aviv). On the rare occasions it does hit a building, it won't destroy the building but will gut a room.

    If the Iron dome is effective, great. If the belief of the people is it's effective, even better, especially for politicians in power. Pretty much what the article says.

    • Re:Belief (Score:5, Informative)

      by dotancohen (1015143) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:29PM (#47438765) Homepage

      The rockets being sent against Israel are small, sporadic, unguided, and mostly lack the range to hit major population centers (Tel Aviv). On the rare occasions it does hit a building, it won't destroy the building but will gut a room.

      I suspect that you're just trolling, but you might just be 10 years out of date.

      Unguided missiles have no military value as they cannot be aimed at military targets, that is true. However, unguided missiles are best for terrorizing civilians, and of course those rockets have the range to hit major population centers. I've had about two hundred shot at my city in just the past week. The current rockets are variants of the Soviet Grad and Iranian Fagar 5 missiles. Plenty of range, unguided but with a COP of about a kilometer, and 40-90 KG of HE.

      With the Iron Dome with only get a few hits in the city, and due to the alarms the population is in shelters when the rockets do hit. Without the alarms, my children would have been dead in November 2012 when a rocket landed were they were playing outside our building. Tens of apartments across the street from the blast were damaged very heavily, only to be rebuilt because they were in a building with undamaged apartments on the other side. About ten or twenty vehicles were destroyed. Nobody was even injured, because the whole city fled to shelters. No injuries, nothing on the news. We usually like it that way.

      If the Iron dome is effective, great. If the belief of the people is it's effective, even better, especially for politicians in power. Pretty much what the article says.

      • 10 years out of date? I lived in Israel between 2009-2011, I was a block away from the Beersheva preschool hit in Dec 2008 which first taught me about what rocket attacks were like. It sounded like a suitcase dropping on the ground. I don't know what it's been like since 2011 first-hand, but Wikipedia/current news tells me it's closer to my recall then yours. >90% are Qassams, because they're cheap, the launchers look like irrigation equipment, and the launcher team can scatter immediately after firi

    • by sycodon (149926)

      It's better than nothing.

      Any anyone who would make an issue of it has waay too much time on their hands.

  • It's hard (Score:4, Insightful)

    by penguinoid (724646) <spambait001@yahoo.com> on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:05PM (#47438649) Homepage Journal

    It's difficult to find a technological solution to a combination of relatively minor disagreements as to the exact details of the God of Abraham, plus disagreement over land ownership.

  • by bongey (974911) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:06PM (#47438659)

    Ted Postol cannot be, even from being from MIT be considered a realable source for opinion. Postol has a large bias against anti-missle systems, which is down right dumb. The rockets are almost the size of small airplanes, but we don't consider anit-aircraft missles to be completely ineffecitive.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:19PM (#47438711) Homepage

      You don't expect a critical appraisal from the vendor, do you? Take his, and everyone else's reporting with some degree of skepticism.

      One notable fact that was tangentially mentioned is that one doesn't see any 'hits' in the media. I would think one would be able to see the effect of the missile intercepting the targets at least some of the time. Given the intense media coverage, one wonders. It's certainly possible that by the time the interceptor hits the target it's too small to visual, but there is one hell of a lot of energy involved. Kinetic energy often creates sparkly bits that can be seen.

      It is also hard to argue that this ISN'T just one more aspect of the public relations game that is endemic to this conflict. Both sides (as is pointed out in TFA) engage in trying to get the other side to look mean and nasty. It's way more complicated than that.

      • by Dog-Cow (21281)

        I have a video from my brother of two intercepts in about a 2 minute time span.

      • by bongey (974911)

        Reality is there have been more than 600 hundred rockets lanched, 137 were calculated as a threat. With 0 fatalities, either the rockets are really crappy, Israel is incredibly lucky or no shit they are being intercepted.

  • It's important to understand why people claim things, instead of just taking them at face-value.

    After reading the article, his reasoning is that the Iron Dome is mostly chasing the rockets from behind, and therefore cannot be effective, because a rocket cannot effectively be caught from behind, or from the side. Furthermore, previous anti-missile systems (the patriot) have had their success rate exaggerated.

    I have no idea if that is reasonable, but it's why he thinks it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Tailhook (98486)

      He "thinks that" because for him, and many many like him, a system that successfully neuters Hamas is very troubling; Iron Dome removes a pain point for Israel and a bargaining chip for Hamas, and Ted Postol and his NPR ilk don't like it. The fact that Israel has created the antidote for Hamas and their ballistic pipe bombs means Israel can exist relatively untroubled, and this reality is so disturbing to these people that they will grasp for and cling to any claim to the contrary.

      In the long run they need

    • by mpe (36238)
      After reading the article, his reasoning is that the Iron Dome is mostly chasing the rockets from behind, and therefore cannot be effective, because a rocket cannot effectively be caught from behind, or from the side.

      Without knowing the actual flight characteristics of both the rockets and the missiles you can't really say if "tail chasing" is a viable interception approach or not.

      Furthermore, previous anti-missile systems (the patriot) have had their success rate exaggerated.

      It's likely to be harder
  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@nosPam.gmail.com> on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:44PM (#47438831) Homepage

    From TFA in the Bulletin: "Regular readers of the Bulletin are well aware of the long history of inflated claims of missile defense efficiency."

    Regular readers are also well aware of the extreme and longstanding bias (running back to the 1960's) of the Bulletin's editors against missile defense (because even a partially effective defense weakens their case for nuclear disarmament, their true goal) and the long history of inflated "criticism" that purports to claim that it cannot possibly work. This... is just more of the same. They don't actually have any numbers or anything resembling hard data - just the opinion of expert(s) whose bias on the issue is well known.

    • by smaddox (928261)

      Well, you're right that missile defense leads to nuclear armament, but it doesn't really matter if it's effective. MIRV's and decoys can cheaply and easily neutralize any form of missile defense.

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @03:03PM (#47438917) Homepage

    Here's the promotional video from Rafael [youtube.com], the system's maker. If the Iron Dome launchers are in a position to hit incoming rockets when they're still in boost phase, they're clearly effective. When they hit, the ascending rocket's flare disappears. Israel has Iron Dome launchers both forward postioned near Gaza, for boost phase defense, and near cities, for terminal defense. For terminal defense, it's harder to tell if they worked. The incoming rockets are just falling at that point, and success requires blowing up their warhead, not their rocket engine.

    Videos show the missile's warhead exploding. That's triggered by a proximity fuse. There's a spray of shrapnel from the warhead; it doesn't have to be a direct hit. Whether that sets off the incoming rocket's warhead isn't visible from the videos of terminal defense.The Patriot missiles used in the Gulf war were able to hit incoming Scud missiles, but often didn't detonate the warhead.

  • I don't know why Israel would try to exaggerate the success of Iron Dome. I think that the opposite is true - the less successful the system is, the more sympathy people will have for Israelis under bombardment.

    • by EnsilZah (575600)

      I think in previous iterations journalists weren't particularly interested in the damage on the Israeli side.
      So might as well calm the population, show the other side their attempts are futile and maybe make a few sales to India and South Korea along the way.

  • Critics do not like to assist in making things better.
  • by Gravis Zero (934156) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @04:08PM (#47439223)

    seriously, this is just bullshit on par with fox news.

    "We can tell, for sure, from video images and even photographs that the Iron Dome system is not working very well at all," Postol said. "It—my guess is maybe [it hits a targeted missile] 5 percent of the time—could be even lower. ... And when you look—what you can do in the daytime—you can see the smoky contrail of each Iron Dome interceptor, and you can see the Iron Domes trying to intercept the artillery rockets side on and from behind. In those geometries, the Iron Dome has no chance, for all practical purposes, of destroying the artillery rocket."

    "for sure," really? how about some actual numbers instead of speculation?

  • This is why I have a tendency to dislike "skeptics".. from my experience they too often tend to commit same errors in reasoning as their opposition. Only by virtue of operating from a safer default position do they end up being on the right side of objective reality.

    How does one ramble on about lack of data driving a position and concurrently while admitting ignorance and having no data yourself go on to commit the very same error?

    If you want to point out news articles on the effectiveness of Iron dome are

  • by dudeman2 (88399) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @04:56PM (#47439417) Homepage

    I'm in Israel with my family this month. We've had to go to shelters several times over the past week (f- you very much, Hamas). You can hear the difference between successful Iron Dome intercepts vs. the rockets that land (most, presumably, in unpopulated areas). The system is working and saving lives; that's good enough for me.

  • SCUD's are cheap, light, and do the job they're supposed to do. Wouldn't it be cheaper to design, and build a 50 cal with radar, and laser tracking? 3 taps, next; repeat as needed.

If I have not seen so far it is because I stood in giant's footsteps.

Working...