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The Military Technology

Israel's Iron Dome Missile Defense Shield Actually Works 861

Hugh Pickens writes "Sarah Tory reports that the debut of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense shield has added a new element to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza strip, one that military officials are calling a 'game-changer.' Israeli officials are claiming that the shield is destroying 90 percent of missiles and rockets it aims at that have been fired into southern Israel by Hamas. This level of success is unprecedented compared with older missile defense systems such as the American-made Patriot model used during the 1991 Gulf War. The missile-defense system can detect rocket launches and then determine the projectiles' flight paths and only intercepts rocket or artillery shells if they are headed for populated areas or sensitive targets; the others it allows to land. It takes a lot of raw computing power to rapidly build a ballistic profile of a fast-incoming projectile, make a series of quick decisions concerning potential lethality, and launch a countermeasure capable of intercepting said projectile in-flight. One reason Iron Dome is showing a much more robust capability than the Patriot system did is simply that its battle control hardware and software are several generations more advanced than those early interceptor systems. 'Israeli officials point out that Iron Dome saves money despite the fact that the interceptors cost up to $100,000 each,' writes Tory. 'The cost of rebuilding a neighborhood destroyed by a rocket attack — not to mention people wounded and lives lost — would be far greater than the cost of the interceptor.' Most important, the system buys Israel time, allowing it to plan out an appropriate response without the political pressure that would be generated by hundreds of potential deaths."
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Israel's Iron Dome Missile Defense Shield Actually Works

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  • both sides (Score:2, Insightful)

    by LinuxGrrl ( 123916 )

    Anyone else thinking they should deploy it on the Gaza side too? Not instead (I know people will misread me). As well.

  • by concealment ( 2447304 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:11AM (#42039479) Homepage Journal

    You mean that SDI might work after all?

    That will get us out of the nuclear age. A stop rate of 90% eliminates a first strike advantage.

    But what's going to replace mutually assured destruction (MAD) when the destruction isn't assuredly mutual?

    These missile shields could bring us closer to nuclear war, or end it forever when the party with the shield tells everyone else to drop their nukes or vanish in sparkly glowing fireballs.

    • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:20AM (#42039589)

      No, 90% still isn't enough to stop MAD between superpowers, although it might be effective against smaller aggressors (IE: Hamas). If you launch 50 nukes at each city, half of the cities will still be destroyed. 100 nukes at each cities and 90% will be destroyed. That's well within the capabilities of the US and Russia and probably other first-world nuclear powers as well. The sheer number of missiles will still overwhelm any defense. You'd need at least three or four nines effectiveness at a minimum to prevent MAD.

      • That's well within the capabilities of the US and Russia and probably other first-world nuclear powers as well.

        By definition, half the nuclear powers aren't "first-world." First-world is NATO, second-world is [former] Soviet, and third-world is everybody else.

      • by Copperhamster ( 1031604 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @10:33AM (#42040663)

        Actually, it's more complicated than that, and that's the reason that the defense system was considered 'provocative'. It's also the reason the US and USSR arsenals were so 'over the top'.
        (I read a book by someone involved with the so called 'nuclear calculus' of MAD a few years ago and assuming he wasn't lying through his teeth, it's interesting)
        Let's say you want to nuke, say, Perth in Australia and remove it from the map. Without using the really really big ones, which were never deployed much really, you are talking about 6-10 mid 80s grade warheads. Let's say 10.
        Now if you want to land 10 warheads on Perth, in the mid 80s, you need to plan to launch 18-25 or so at it.
        The book went into the details of why.
        Now because of some of those details, let's say that Australia deployed an ABM system that can stop 33% of the warheads that complete their ascent stage and separate from their missiles. We're not talking about shooting down the missiles themselves, just the warheads after they separate. (Interesting note, as of 80s grade tech, boosted fission weapons were fully 'fail deadly' and could detonate at full yield when struck by an interceptor weapon, before that weapon could destroy the hardware. Full Fusion weapons would probably 'fizzle' producing a much lower yield explosion than they were rated for.)
        Based on his math, which was complex but did follow, assuming the underlying assumptions were correct, in order to turn Perth into a crater you now need to launch 60-80 warheads at it.
        To get a 'for sure' 10 warhead kill.
        Now when MIRVs were in style that doesn't seem like so much with a dozen warheads on each missile except that an iron clad rule was that those warheads each had to come off a separate missile. Because a lot of the reason for needing so many warheads was the assumption that a good percentage of those missiles carrying them would never make it to separation stage.
        Add to this the fratacide problem of warheads. Any warhead hitting Perth within 'a short time (which he couldn't give exacts of because it was classified, but indicated it was longer than 3-4 minutes)' of any particular detonation would be killed by it's own brother explosion before it detonated. (And nuclear detonation waves were one of the few things fast enough to kill, for example, a boosted fission weapon before it could set itself off). So if you launched 60 warheads at Perth, not only do they all have to come from different missiles, but you have to plan for them to land over a at least a 4 hour period. Which allows the ABM system to be more effective because you can't swamp it with everything you have in one big go and, assuming Australia has deployed it's own nuclear weapons, also allows them to strike back at your missile launching fields and command and control facilities. Which means you need to target even MORE warheads at Perth if you want to evaporate it.

        The Big Deal here is not that 'oh heck we may only lose half our country in a nuclear war woopie!'
        The Big Provocative Deal here is that once you have that 33% kill shield in place it requires a massive expenditure of warheads on the enemies part to really for sure kill you completely. Suddenly things are not MAD and now you have to worry about 33% shield country launching conventional ground invasions of parts of your territories or spheres of influence, feeling more sure that you won't escalate the conflict to the nuclear stage because suddenly you can't ensure the destruction of the other side, when they still have the ability to annihilate you.
        Now you may ask who would be insane enough to risk that nuclear war that wipes out only half their own country, given the rest of the situation, and my answer would Godwin the thread. Also, the USSR thought Reagan was that far off the rails as well. Who's to say who else would have risked such a level of brinksmanship.
        90% would be enough for a country to act pretty much with impunity against anyone except the really big nuclear players, without fear of major nuclear damage. The thought

        • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

          Would be more interested in details, but I'm surprised that Fratricide is THAT big of a problem.

          Consider how fast nuclear warheads are travelling at impact. You're talking about hypersonic velocities - something like mach 10-20. Those things cover HUGE distances in short periods of time. So, even if you just launch missiles a few seconds apart at the same target, I would think that when a warhead detonates the nearby ones would be miles away at least. Nuclear warheads have to be hardened against nuclear

          • You need to keep the neutron count down in a fissile mass being compressed, to prevent premature detonation and a resulting fizzle. (which is why weapons grade Pu keeps the 240 percentage small, to keep teh background neutron flux down.)

            Now imagine tossing that warhead into an evironment just after a nuke has gone off. There is a lot of background neutrons from the fission products and fallout. If you implode the next warhead too soon it'll fizzle from this external increase in the neutron flux. Hence the n

    • by benjfowler ( 239527 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:21AM (#42039603)


      The shitbox unguided bottle rockets that the Muslims are terrorising Israel with, aren't coming in that fast, and can be cheaply and easily intercepted.

      On the other hand, strategic weapons, like nuclear-armed reentry vehicles (which are hypersonic and can actively manoeuvre), are virtually unstoppable. Nothing under Heaven and Earth can stop these things in terminal phase.

      MAD might be around for quite a while yet.

      • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <> on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:35AM (#42039805) Journal
        I think MIRV technology [] makes this impossible. I remember reading this from a book by McNamara but Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

        Thus, in both a military and an economic sense, MIRVs render ABM systems less effective, as the costs of maintaining a workable defense against MIRVs would greatly increase, requiring multiple defensive missiles for each offensive one. Decoy reentry vehicles can be used alongside actual warheads to minimize the chances of the actual warheads being intercepted before they reach their targets. A system that destroys the missile earlier in its trajectory (before MIRV separation) is not affected by this but is more difficult, and thus more expensive to implement.

        Even if you made an iron dome for ballistic nuclear warheads, who ever is firing them at you is just going to make them split right before they hit your interceptor kill zone. And then you'll have less time to act or deploy your interceptors and a random number at each entry point. Could you take out some of them? Sure but it's a clam shell game.

        I'm pretty sure Hamas isn't using MIRV technology and the Israelis have developed this Iron Dome tech to stop this specific kind of attack. Not ICBMs with complex nuclear payloads.

    • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

      A stop rate of 90% eliminates a first strike advantage.

      No it is more likely to eliminate second-strike capability. The reason that the USA and USSR had hundreds of times the number of warheads needed to wipe each-other off the map was so that the second strike, even with a heavily damaged system was virtually guaranteed to totally wipe out the opposition. If you have a situation where a first strike will destroy (10% the weapons of Russia or the USA can still do that), but the second strike (10% of attack from damaged systems) may not then you have a much more

    • by hype7 ( 239530 )

      no, he wasn't. because until one of these systems gets to 100% (and by 100%, I mean 100%) then any strategist would tell you the natural reaction would simply be to lob more nukes. it actually results in INCREASED proliferation of nuclear weapons, and makes the world a less safe place.

      and if one of them does get to 100%, they'll do what the russians threatened to do over the most recent european missile defence shield — just build missiles that the systems can't get a fix on: []

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      There's a wee bit of difference between a shitty Hamas rocket that occasionally actually traverses a few miles and hits something that might count as a target and an intercontinental ballistic missile. Speed, for one. Decoys, for another.

  • by synir ( 731266 ) <arkandel AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:12AM (#42039493)
    I'm not saying Israel's defenses don't work (I've no reason to think that) but given the timing do you think we'd be told

    a) If the defenses didn't work well at all
    b) About all the instances the defenses failed to work?

    Given the circumstances what we hear *especially* from official sources on either side of this conflict should be taken with quite a grain of salt.
  • by anti-pop-frustration ( 814358 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:22AM (#42039629) Journal
    Best missile defense shield : peace treaty.
    • You are correct, when do you think the Palestinians will begin to show any interest in a peace treaty with Israel?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I think the Palestinians would readily agree to one, it's their leadership that's the problem. Bill Clinton had a deal worked out between the 2 sides back in the 90s... Israel would declare Palestine was a state, in return Palestine would recognize Israel as a state. At the last minute Arafat backed out of the deal claiming Israel was not a legitimate state, and they'd drive them into the sea. It's kind of like your drunk friend that declares he's not going down without a fight and charges the cops that rai
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      They tried that. A few times. It's missile stop rate was much less than 90%.

  • Am I the only one? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zibodiz ( 2160038 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:23AM (#42039645)
    Reading the comments, it seems I'm the only one here who thinks this is awesome. When it comes to weapons development, this is exactly the sort of weapon we should be cheering for. Whether you agree with the ones using it or not, this is a wonderful thing. A weapon which only works as a shield to block incoming attacks; that is what the weapons used by enlightened countries should have evolved into.
    • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:35AM (#42039807)

      Reading the comments, it seems I'm the only one here who thinks this is awesome.

      I think that the difference is that other people are taking the line of thought that something more awesome than a weapons system like Iron Dome is not needing it in the first place, and that the increase of hostilities in the middle could have scary consequences.

    • by happy_place ( 632005 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:42AM (#42039909) Homepage
      It really is a triumph of human intelligence and there's a LOT of combined science and technology employed in this solution. It demonstrates the sort of ingenuity that happens in a highly cooperative intellectual landscape, when one puts aside their malicious intent, and thinks more on the need to protect rather than to kill. Combined, great minds can do great things. It's a shame too often great minds are wasted on revenge and retaliation, egos and avarice. Ethical intelligence is true intelligence.
  • Apples and Oranges (Score:5, Informative)

    by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:27AM (#42039695) Journal
    One other large difference that the summary glosses over is that there's a big difference between the Katyusha [] and improvised rockets [] of Hamas, and the much larger Scud missile [] used by Iraq. There's almost an order of magnitude difference in size and range, and a several-fold difference in speed.

    There's a correspondingly large difference between the Tamir interceptor missiles used as part of the Iron Dome [] and the Patriot missile [].

    Still, on the whole, it's probably a good thing that we are getting better at setting our lethal weapons against each other, rather than at people.
  • Patriot Failures (Score:5, Informative)

    by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:27AM (#42039697)

    There was a huge problem with the Patriot system early on where the tracking computers lost so much accuracy even after only running continuously for 8 hours that the system would fail to intercept threats. The short term solution was to reboot the system at regular intervals.
      GAO Report: Patriot Missile Defense [] (Official report)
      Patriot Missile Software Problem []
      Round off errors and the Patriot missile []

  • by IceNinjaNine ( 2026774 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:30AM (#42039751)
    Holy crap, check this thing out []!

    Color me impressed...
  • by guises ( 2423402 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:50AM (#42040009)
    Here's a random question for some knowledgeable person: how much of that $100,000 cost per interceptor is overhead? I realize that missiles aren't simple things, but that strikes me as way out of line with what it would actually cost to build one of these.

    That goes for other missiles as well - you always hear about Tomahawks, etc., costing $1 million+, how much do they actually cost to build?
  • by uchian ( 454825 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @10:11AM (#42040329) Homepage
    I remember how during the gulf war the patriot system was being lauded on news sites as being fantastically accurate, taking out most missiles before they landed, etc.

    Only turned out later that it wasn't so accurate.

    I'll give it a couple of years before I conclude whether the accuracy reported in the new system is just propaganda or not.
  • NY Times Article (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @10:12AM (#42040351) Homepage

    NY Times article has more information than the top link, e.g.: "Iron Dome has successfully intercepted more than 300 rockets fired at densely populated areas, with a success rate of 80 to 90 percent, top officials said."

    So a bit lower percentage. Yet I'm skeptical of even that, because we have no independent verification, and officials are incented to cheerlead/bluff for things like this. Also note that it was about half paid for by the U.S. to the tune of about $900 million.

    • by Arker ( 91948 )
      The interesting thing is that apparently at least some of these longer range missiles are the same old short range ones, lightened up for longer range by the simple expedient of removing the warhead leaving nothing but a tube and motor. This appears to be a low-tech strategy against Iron Dome, considering the costs of the interceptors versus the cost of said dumb tube+motor. A rocket like that can do some property damage and might kill someone who got unlucky but it is nowhere near as destructive as one wit
  • "goofy" rocket fuel

    rather than a nice straight acceleration curve, "poison" the rocket fuel so it sputters and weakens in flight on purpose. Yes, the rocket won't be accurate, but I don't think accuracy is the point. Meanwhile, the goofy microaccelerations and microdecelerations would make the rocket impossible to target accurately.

  • US Taxpayers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Graham J - XVI ( 1076671 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @11:18AM (#42041437) Homepage Journal

    ...must be overjoyed at helping fund this.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.