FORT SILL, Okla. -- Two Iron Dome batteries will go through initial testing on American soil, says a top air defender, before the short-range air defense system can be fielded to Army formations.
The Army plans to begin phased testing of the systems, as the missiles, launchers and radar go from the assembly line in Israel to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to undergo an equipment fielding and training program, said Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, Air and Missile Defense Cross-Functional Team director. The batteries are scheduled to arrive in December 2020 and February 2021.
The rigorous testing of each system will end with a live-fire engagement to shoot down a surrogate cruise missile target, Gibson explained. After this, the Iron Dome batteries will officially stand up at Fort Bliss, Texas, and be available for operational deployment by September 2021 and December 2021, respectively.
After lawmakers made the provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act for interim cruise missile defense capability, the Army awarded a contract to the Israel Missile Defense Organization, or IMDO, for two batteries of Iron Dome.
Although a “very capable and proven weapon system,” Gen. John M. Murray, Army Futures Command commanding general said, “the Army needs to get its hands on the Iron Dome” to see if it is possible to integrate it into the Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense, or AIAMD, framework.
The Marines have demonstrated possible interoperability of the system -- but interoperability is much different from being integrated, Gibson said.
For example, although the Marines provided their sensor data to fire the Iron Dome, this only provided fire direction and not the fire control required on a multi-domain battlefield.
“What the Marines demonstrated was an interoperable solution, where they took a subset of an Iron Dome weapon system using their radar, launchers, those type of things,” Gibson said. So, even though Iron Dome took direction from an outside mission command system, “the weapon system still made the ultimate decision on what to do.”
Older weapons were designed without joint capabilities, he said. As technology and warfare have advanced, the need to develop solutions that provide commanders the flexibility and overmatch they require has given rise to integration as the central principle of weapon system development.
“The Army is just one piece of the joint and coalition air and missile defense fight,” he added, regarding the future of air defense. “It’s an all-service activity that must provide an array of air and missile defense capabilities from land, air, and sea and it’s more than just bending new metal to make new things. It’s also about growing new formations of air defenders to achieve a greater outcome. This is the Army’s most aggressive modernization period for air and missile defense since the Cold War.”
The Iron Dome system is a battle-proven, highly-accurate weapon and for years it has helped safeguard locations around Israel from rocket fire.
“It’s an effective, truck-towed, multi-mission mobile air defense system developed to counter very short-range rockets, artillery and mortar threats,” he said.
“We welcome the Iron Dome system, or any other viable system, to compete in the Army’s enduring solution competition,” Murray said, “and will continue to conduct a thorough analysis of our requirements to seek modernization solutions from a variety of sources.”