Explainer: How Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system works

By Wycliffe Nyamasege
On 15 April 2024 at 01:29

Israel’s high-tech Iron Dome defense system continues to wow the world for its effectiveness in intercepting rockets and artillery shells in the wake of recent attacks from Iran and Gaza.

Israeli authorities said on Sunday, April 15, 2024, that the Iron Dome had intercepted 99 percent of more than 300 drones and missiles fired by Iran on Saturday night, resulting to minimal damage on the country with a population of more than 9.5 million people.

Iran’s unpresented retaliatory attack followed Israel’s armed attacks against the diplomatic premises of Iran in Damascus, the Syrian Arab Republic, which killed seven senior military personnel.

In reaction to Saturday’s attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Israel’s defense system capabilities in a post on social platform X, saying “We intercepted. We blocked. Together, we will win.”

The Iron Dome also stunned the world in October last year after intercepting hundreds of missiles fired over Tel Aviv by the Hamas militant group.

It’s estimated that the Iron Dome has intercepted thousands of missiles and drones since its launch in 2011, mainly in response to the 2006 war that ended with Hamas taking control of Gaza the following year.

How the missile defense system works

The all-weather air defense system was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries with financial support from the United States, which has so far contributed more than US$1.6 billion to develop and improve the system.

The system was designed to protect Israel against incoming short-range weapons and is powered by mobile missile-defense batteries.

Each of the batteries is fitted with three to four launchers that can fire 20 interceptor missiles.

The system usually activates upon the detection of an incoming rocket by the Iron Dome radar units. These units then relay information about speed and trajectory to the control center of the batteries.

The control center’s operators calculate whether the rocket is going to hit a populated area. If so, a missile is fired from the launchers, destroying the incoming rocket by exploding near it.

To reduce the chances of damage on the ground, each missile receives constant guidance updates from the control center.

The US uses a similar technology dubbed MIM-104 Patriot to protect its territory against short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and advanced aircraft.

The US also uses the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system for defense against long-range ballistic missiles, particularly intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) launched by adversaries.

Russia, on its part, uses S-400 system to protect itself against external attacks.

Unveiled in 2007, the defense system is capable of eliminating a wide variety of aerial adversaries, such as stealth fighter jets, bombers, cruise and ballistic missiles, and even unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). It carries two separate radar systems that can detect aerial targets up to a range of 600 kilometres and can simultaneously engage 80 aerial targets.