As Debunking Continues, Congress Pushes for US Contractors to Profit Off Iron Dome

Schematic of Iron Dome missile defense system. (Wikimedia Commons image, rotated 180 degrees)

Schematic of Iron Dome defense system. (Wikimedia Commons image, rotated 180 degrees)

Back in April, I wrote about the horrible success rate of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and the outrageous sums of money that the US has poured into it. With more rockets now being fired fired from Gaza and Israel responding by massacring Palestinians who have no escape, the Iron Dome system is getting renewed attention. And as with much in the Israel-Palestine situation, there is the propaganda we see in much of the main press and then there is the stark reality behind it that is vastly different.

Writing in The Atlantic, James Fallows noted a week and a half ago how the Washington Post had swallowed the propaganda completely, putting up the headline ‘Israel’s “Dome’ changes the fight” and provided a snippet of the Post’s praise:

To Israeli security officials, the success of Iron Dome is akin to that of the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank, which they say helped bring an end to an onslaught of suicide bombings in the early 2000s.

The Iron Dome system has rendered rockets so ineffective that Hamas and its allies have, in recent days, been attempting more-creative ways of attacking Israel.

To debunk this baseless propaganda, Fallows relied heavily on an article by John Mecklin in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Mecklin pulls no punches, titling his piece “Iron Dome: the public relations weapon”. Unlike the Post’s propaganda, Mecklin backs up his piece with evidence, experts and explanations that ring true to common sense:

With the latest rounds of rocket fire from Hamas fighters in the Gaza strip, Israel’s missile defense system, known as Iron Dome, is getting a lot of press again, much of it positive. As with much reporting on missile defense, however, the Iron Dome coverage has lacked context and misconstrued reality.


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,” 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 Iron Dome interceptors to work properly, they have to hit the incoming rockets head-on. See this description for Bloomberg from Richard Lloyd, who often collaborates with Postol:

The strength of Lloyd’s critique is that ordinary people can evaluate the effectiveness of Iron Dome just by looking up in the sky at the contrails of the antimissile system’s Tamir interceptors. If it’s working properly, the interceptor missiles shoot upward and meet incoming Hamas rockets as they fall to the ground at a steep angle. The contrails are short and go straight skyward. If it’s not working, the contrails form loop-de-loops as the interceptors chase after the rockets and catch them from the side or behind.

Hamas rockets that are hit from the side or behind may be knocked out of the air, but their warheads usually aren’t detonated, Lloyd says, so they can still explode when they hit the ground and cause serious damage.

Lloyd continues, describing why it is so hard to destroy these rockets:

Hamas warheads aren’t easy to blow up in midair. The explosive used—TNT—is fairly inert and encased in a thick steel tube. The Tamir interceptors are supposed to blow up when they get close to the rockets and shred them with small steel rods. But the rods spray in all directions, so most don’t even touch the rocket. Many of those that hit may deflect off. The rods don’t have much chance if the timing or direction of the interceptor is even slightly off, according to Lloyd’s calculations.

As I described back in April, despite the abysmal performance of Iron Dome, the US has sunk over a billion dollars into the program. And despite this horrific waste of money, it appears that our elected officials are only upset about one aspect of the program. Most of the money spent to date on the program has gone to Israeli companies, and so Congress is moving now to make sure US contractors get a piece of the action:

Up to this year, the major portion of Pentagon-supplied Iron Dome funds — said to be over 90 percent — was spent in Israel. Compare that with the Bush administration’s 10-year, $30 billion military aid agreement with Israel in 2007, which limited 26.3 percent of those U.S. funds to be spent on Israeli-manufactured equipment. Arrow and David’s Sling, other Israeli anti-missile systems, were developed as joint U.S.-Israeli programs, with most of the money spent through U.S. defense contractors.

To remedy the current low U.S. contractor participation level, a future co-production deal for Iron Dome interceptors and other parts was signed in March between the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and the Israeli Missile Defense Organization. With the agreement, the proportion of funds for U.S. contractors, which has been as low as 3 percent, could rise to more than 50 percent. In preparation, the 2014 Pentagon budget has $15 million to pay for U.S. contractors’ engineering costs in developing capacity to co-produce Dome components.

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee said that more reassurance was needed. It voted to withhold the $175 million for fiscal 2015 until it has confirmation that Israel has provided the Pentagon with a timeline for Iron Dome expenditure of the 2015 U.S. funds; a delivery schedule for funded items; and a report to the Missile Defense Agency documenting delivery and acceptance by U.S. industry suppliers of all Israeli technical data packages required for U.S. co-production of Iron Dome.

Richard Lloyd intends to publish his 28 page analysis of Iron Dome soon. I look forward to reading it.

In the meantime, Barbara Mikulski yesterday called for another $225 million in emergency Iron Dome funding. Reuters didn’t say what portion of these funds she wanted spent in the US.

Postcript: I strongly recommend reading the full Mecklin piece, especially his description of how Iron Dome is more properly called a rocket defense system rather than a missile defense system and the technological differences in defending against rockets or missiles.

22 replies
  1. JTMinIA says:

    Another aspect of Iron Dome that one doesn’t see discussed very often is how its success (or failure) relates to using missile attacks against Israel as the justification for bombing and invading Gaza. If Iron Dome is so great, then you can’t justify counter-attacks that kill three (or more) times as many civilians as militants. I believe that this is why we are hearing so much more about tunnels into Israel this time around. Of course, you can’t really justify bombing hospitals to get rid of tunnels, but logic is not how one should approach all this, anyway.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    Noam Chomsky, in “Understanding Power,” responding to a question about the ethics of Pentagon funding for research, at MIT for example:

    …As for its (money’s) influence on what’s done, that’s very small: the Defense Department doesn’t give a damn what you do most of the time–they just want to fund it, because they want to have a bigger bureaucracy or something like that. So there’s very little reporting back by the scientists, they don’t pay much attention to you, they don’t care whether you did what you said you’d do or something else, and so on. In fact, back in the Sixties, there was a guy in my lab who was working on translating Humboldt [a Prussian philosopher]–he was being funded by the Office of Naval Research, they didn’t care.

    So nobody in government actually cares if the damn thing actually works or not, the point is that they get the big bucks and maybe some US corps can get some of the gravy.
    Washington is a rotten sinkhole of criminals, so what can we expect.

  3. Don Bacon says:

    Tourist traffic way down at Ben Gurion airport because–
    first– reports of a rocket or associated debris near the airport
    then– rocket lands near country’s main airport
    finally, reading down–a rocket crashed into a house in Yehud, a town about a mile from Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv.
    United Airlines, U.S. Airways and Delta Air lines said they were suspending service to Israel until further notice. . .Israel’s Transportation Ministry urged the airlines to reverse their decision, saying Israel’s main airport was “safe for landings and departures.”

  4. Pete says:

    Certainly not to make light of any suffering in Israel and certainly not in Gaza, the thought comes to mind of just filling up those sports event T-shirt cannons with $100.00 bills and shoot them at the incoming.

  5. RexFlex says:

    I honestly think this whole bad ass arsenal landing in the wrong hands and Putin’s BUK buddies are just the first horse out of the gate. Think about how a whole conceptual argument, very Dr. Evil-ish wrong guys wrong weapons,has now been bandied about. Iron Dome, yeah I’d like that system to launch at a city, instead of a missile. Iron rods that disperse instantly? Fk Yeah! Don’t they know the bait they are producing. Someone loaned a SA-11 radar guided missle launcher to someone who wanted it.Quite the widow maker or genealogy ender. This is the rental that is not gentle. Are criminal political parties corporations and or citizens too?
    Look at the maps where US citizens are told not to go. Libya, Sudan etc, BUT, for the first time in a while,Israel is on the list.These bad ass weapons are going to get in the wrong hands and they aren’t nukes. So here’s the question: If I find a SAM working system in my neighbor’s yard who fled for his own reasons and I contract out or accept operational information about this weapon from a third party, who is liable if I use it improperly?
    More importantly which insurance company carries coverage for this?
    Lawyers you can’t love em, you can’t shoot em.
    My apologies to Howard Jones.
    “Some break the rules and live to count the cost
    The insecurity is the thing that won’t get lost”

  6. galljdaj says:

    Wasn’t the US Test Run conducted during daddy bush’s war on Iraq? And, also conducted with similar failure rate? Definitely welfare for the rich that outdoes all other welfare programs put together!

    • Jim White says:

      That was the Patriot missile system you are remembering. It was used to try to intercept Saddam’s Scud missiles. But yes, it was a spectacular failure that was spectacularly expensive.

      • CTuttle says:

        We’re still deploying the Patriot systems, we’ve sent Batteries to Turkey and Jordan within the past year alone, on top of long term deployment to Kuwait and the KSA…!

  7. JTMinIA says:

    Patriot was, IMO, never meant to work; it was meant to cost money, period. Each one was more than $2M. Iron Dome was at least intended to work, so less energy was expended on making it expensive. They cost about $100K each.

    • GulfCoastPirate says:

      And the Palestinians are building their rockets for what – maybe $1000 a piece? $2000?

  8. ArizonaBumblebeeper says:

    What I find most objectionable about what is going on in Israel is the degree to which America’s political class and media have become complicit in the ongoing tragedy going on in that country. Israel, increasingly under the influence of hard-right politicians, has adopted a bunker strategy. First, they built the wall to separate Israel from the occupied territories. They then began building separate roadways for Israelis and Palestinians. Now they are spending large amounts of money trying to perfect their “Iron Dome”, hoping it will hermetically protect Israelis from any rocket attacks by Palestinians or their supporters. Will underground cities restricted to Israeli citizens be the next step? When I wistfully think about the young, idealistic survivors of the Holocaust coming to a strange land to build a kibbutz in the desert, I wonder what happened. When I think back to what President Obama said a few years ago in his Cairo speech, I wonder what happened. I saw a picture of a group of young Israeli men who are part of some right-wing militia group in the country, and I immediately was reminded of the fascist black shirt brigades in Mussolini’s Italy.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Israel’s long-term goal doesn’t involve bunkers but the takeover of all of Palestine, which it has nearly achieved. There is no international resistance to this. Palestinians, especially in Gaza, are all terrorists, the story goes.
      The Israeli position is for a “Greater Israel,” the territory of the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories, the territory of the former British Mandate of Palestine. However, because of the controversial nature of the term, the term Land of Israel is used.–wiki
      The Israeli position on borders goes back to UNSC Res 242 which included:
      (i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
      (ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
      The Israeli position: Israel, in any future agreement with the Palestinians, has a critical need for defensible borders.
      As this video shows, Israel’s “defensible borders” coincide with Palestine’s plus the airspace above it.

  9. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    Jim, why do you have a diagram of a colander accompanying your piece?

    Oh… never mind.

  10. bevin says:

    The term “Iron Dome” is a clear reference to Jabotinsky’s 1923 essay “The Arabs and US” in which he called for the construction of an Iron Wall around the Zionist settlements.

    This self identification with fascism is to be expected of this Israeli government but it is surprising-though refreshingly candid- that the US goes along with it.

  11. Don Bacon says:

    Israeli Spokesman: What Would Your Government Do If Faced With Armed Terrorists and Rockets ‘Raining Down At Your Cities?’ (justifying Gaza slaughter)
    This happened, in a sense, when the Native Americans, yesterday’s Palestinians, attacked European settlers who were grabbing their land.
    The settlers simply massacred them all, men women and children. Similar now in Palestine.

  12. CTuttle says:

    Mahalo, Jim…! Reuters didn’t say what portion of these funds she wanted spent in the US.

    Both Iron Dome and the Patriot systems are Raytheon products, so if y’all have a spare nickel, I’d buy some Raytheon stock…! ;-)

  13. P J Evans says:

    ‘Son of Star Wars’, I think. My father said it wouldn’t work, back when Ronny first proposed it. I haven’t seen anything yet to show that he was wrong.

  14. lefty665 says:

    The sieve is a great graphic to illustrate the effectiveness of Iron dome! Here’s another that goes to those who believe in it.
    Hitting (or coming very close to) an incoming missile is very hard. High speed convergence means there’s a very short window of opportunity to make it happen. Everything from Star Wars and Patriots I & 2 to our current missile defenses and Iron Dome provide evidence of just how hard it is. As noted, it is also hard to actually destroy the warhead even if contact (proximity) is achieved.
    But, it sure is great for the defense contractors. Keep them resupply and change orders coming.

  15. Evangelista says:

    The entire discussion of the Israeli “Iron Dome” missile defense system vs. Hamas rocket artillary is farcical, including all of the discussion here. First, Israeli missile defense is, and has always been, public relations posturing and babbling. This is noted in this article, but not put into context. The only mention of what Hamas rockets are in fact is in the Ted Postol quotation, where he correctly refers to the Hamas rockets as what they are, “artillary rockets”.

    How high-tech are artillary rockets? Are they recent technology? Does anyone remember the patriotic American song from the War of 1812 having the line “The bombs bursting in air and the rockets red glare…”? Yes, artillary rockets are not new, they are as old as the invention of rockets in China, before there were guns to name the propellant “gunpowder” for. Artillary rockets are artillary shells with the powder packed in a tube on the back of the “shell” (warhead in presend-day parlance), instead of in a casing behind the shell. Artillary rockets are what you make if you haven’t the technology, or materials, or foundaries, to make guns. They are cheap.

    The trade-off is that they are inaccurate. They are notoriously inaccurate. They don’t have guidance or targeting capabilities. How many Hamas rockets have damaged anyone or anything in Israel? It is a mind-boggling surprise when one of them hits anything, and more so when one hits something strategic, and most rare of all when one actually hurts or kills someone in Israel (who could as easily be an Arab as a Jew).

    Hamas artillary rockets are a gesture of defiance, nothing more, a way to tell the Israelis that the Palestinians are not subdued. It is like the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto throwing rocks and bricks at the armed and armored Germans back when Jews were Palestinians, before they became poster-boy for Camus “Myth of Sysiphus”.

    Thus, “Iron Dome” is an aggressive farce, a PR game not even up to the Israeli pretense of being rocket attacked in the first Bush Gulf War, when they played the game at night and with a cloud cover, so they could shoot the missiles up into the clouds to “intercept” alleged Iraqi incoming, and then, when the missiles had burnt out and were falling back, with warheads intact, self-destruct them so they would fall as shrapnel rain. The PR gimmick was claiming each self-destruct blast lighting the cloud cover in the night a “successful” intercept of an Iraqi Missile, saving “countless Israeli lives…” It was a great PR campaign because it depended for success on people observing being stupid and gullible, a sure bet every time, every game, game after game, as any honest shell-game operator would tell you, if you could find one who is honest.

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