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The Military Politics Technology

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

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

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  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

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

    by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @02:33PM (#47438793) Homepage

    The 'shelter' is one of two places:
    1) The building stairwell, as it has no outside walls.
    2) The underground shelter, which means that we must run though completely unprotected areas to get there.

    Note that exactly the "unprotected areas" I mention were in fact completely destroyed when a missle hit in November 2012. Luckily, we were in the stairwell at the time, and now we always run to the stairwell for that reason. Of course, the stairwell will not protect us from a direct hit on the building as the undergroud shelter would, but it does protect us from the missles' shrapnell that land outside the building.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> 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 Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @03:03PM (#47438917) Homepage

    Here's the promotional video from Rafael [], 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.

  • Re:Subject bait (Score:3, Informative)

    by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @03:37PM (#47439091) Homepage

    Ha ha! Well, _technically_, isn't it the palestinian's home? But I suppose might makes right and all that.. ;-)

    I don't know what you mean by "technically", but yes both people call this land home. Hence, war!

    Hamas has been shooting rockets at Israel non-stop for years, but only when we shoot back does it become news. Assad kills on average 300 people per day for the past three years, but that is not news. Up until last week, more Gazans have been killed by Hamas rocket launches gone bad than by Israel, but that is not news. 100+ of the 120+ Gazans killed were Hamas militants, that is about 85% militants-to-civilians rate (US in Iraq: 8-15% militants-to-civilians rate, Russians/Soviets anywhere: 2-5% militants-to-civilians rate) but that is not news.

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

    by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @03:42PM (#47439103) Homepage

    Actually, we just had another rocket attack while I was composing the previous post.

    I don't think that damaging the building structure is a wise move considering the threat. I do appreciate the idea, though. I have taken some precaution and improvised some things which are likely to be of value considering the situation.

      Railroad ties would make horrible improvised shelter roofs. You don't want that falling on your child's head! Rather, armoured concrete (lots of armoured concrete) and dirt (lots of dirt) make decent shelter roofs.

  • Re:Subject bait (Score:3, Informative)

    by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @04:04PM (#47439213) Homepage

    And before 1947 Beersheba was a town of mostly Palestinians. Then in October 1948 [] the Israeli goverment decided to truck the palestinian's to Gaza. Shortly after having displaced the palestinians their houses got occupied by people from the newly formed Israel. I am sure there are still people alive in Gaza who remember when their house was stolen.

    And before _whatever_date_is_inconvenient_for_somebody_else Beersheba was a town of Jews. You can go back as far or as close as you want and find somebody living here. I mention that in my other posts.

    I do believe that it was the King of Morocco who moved most of the Muslims out of Beersheba in 1947, with a promise of returning them after the Jews were exterminated. I do know of the forced evacuations at the hand of the Israeli army as well, much as the Jews were forced out of Morocco, Algers, Tunis, Lybia, Egypt, and other nations during the same time frame.

    You might want to research other population swaps, both forced and non-forced. I am aware of what was done to the Muslims who stayed in Beersheba, which is nothing in comparison to what happened to the Jews who were forced out of their homes in Muslim states at the same time. Your recollection of history is one sided.

    I am sephardi, from mexico. I did the Aliyah and went to israel. I was not happy with what I saw. I found converted indigenous people from Latin america [] living in the farthest settlements. To me It felt as if they were being used as a shield.

    That is an amazing article, thank you.

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

    by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @04:38PM (#47439333) Homepage

    (1) Out of two hundred or so rockets shot "at" your city, how many were on a trajectory that they'd actually have landed "in" your city? Not many because they're so wildly inaccurate? Or most because your city is large?

    When someone is shooting at you with a rifle, do you not take cover if the bullet will not hit you? How would you even know that the bullet will not hit you?

    When a rocket is launched, seconds count. All population centers in the direction of the rocket's travel are warned by alarm. That means that we grab our children and run, no matter if we are working, eating, shitting, sleeping, or anything else.

    The nature of this particular question seems very naive. I suppose that you haven't been shot at much!

    (2) You mentioned 200 hundred rockets shot at your city. Is this the sum of the tallies of "two different kinds of boom" you mentioned, or does the number come from a different source?

    The number comes from a few sources. The army says this many have been shot, the citizen guard says another number, Hamas says another number, we count another number, the neighbours count another number. You'll never get an exact count, but they are all within a few tens of percent from each other. Interestingly, the Hamas numbers seem to be the highest.

    Is the low casualty rate better explained by a high intercept rate by Iron Dome? Or by the inaccuracy of the rockets coupled with the fact that statistically a high proportion of possible landing targets wouldn't hurt someone? Or by the fact that so many people in your city sensibly seek shelter? Or by the fact that the rockets are fairly rudimentary and don't pack much explosive and are unlikely to do damage unless they randomly score a hit almost on top of someone? I suspect that the other factors are dominant and the low casualty rate is therefore not a good guide to the effectiveness of Iron Dome.

    The low casualty rate is undoubtedly due to the fact that so many people sensibly seek shelter. The high COP of the missiles mean nothing when shooting at civilians, and they do have between 40 - 90 KG of HE, with lots of nasty shrapnel. These are not the pop rockets that were being shot ten years ago. These are Iranian and Soviet designed weapons.

    The Iron Dome is a factor for the low damage, but the alarms are what is saving lives. Excellent question!

    If by sound you distinguish an IronDome hit from a rocket that hits the ground, do you assume that all "ground" hits land in your city?

    We can tell by how bad the building shakes and how much damage was done (i.e. broken windows, which we have had at my house).

    In your tallies, you said you heard 4-5 rockets hit the ground. How many did you hear intercepted by Iron Dome?

    I'll ask my daughters for their current count next time the alarms go off. I'm pretty sure that they are both well above 150 by now. Each volley is a few rockets (6-12), and we've had between 4-8 volleys per day for the past week.

    Do you think the range of your hearing hit-the-ground and hit-by-IronDome are equivalent?

    I really doubt it. The Iron Dome intercepts are in the air and relatively far from the city, thus they are harder to hear. Plus, they have far less HE than do the rockets they are intercepting. I suppose that we may be under heavier fire than I've thought. I'm not sure that is a perspective that I wanted!

  • 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.

  • by Ash Vince ( 602485 ) * on Saturday July 12, 2014 @08:58PM (#47440463) Journal

    f you count the prices of the missiles launched at Israel, you'd have enough to get food to most of the Palestinians, to repair most of the buildings, to create medic centers, schools, ...

    Their not allowed to repair the buildings as concrete is on the list of goods that Israel prevents from being imported: []

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

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday July 12, 2014 @09:41PM (#47440549) Homepage

    Using a nuclear device at high altitude? You do know what happens if you do that, right? [] That one test bomb knocked out street lights and long distance phone service nearly 1000 miles away and took out a third of all satellites in orbit around Earth at that point in time.

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

    by arendjr ( 673589 ) on Sunday July 13, 2014 @11:09AM (#47442713) Homepage

    You're not taking into consideration that Iron Dome does a trajectory analysis of the rockets and when the rocket is determined to fall safely outside of populated areas (like the vast majority of them do) they don't even attempt to intercept them. So they only have expenses for rockets which actually threaten to hit any cities.

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.