December 3, 2012: Israeli weapons are big sellers, which is why Israel is one of the top ten weapons exporters in the world. This is because Israeli stuff works well and is usually combat tested. But one of the more recent combat proven Israeli weapons has not got a lot of customers. Although the new Israeli Iron Dome system succeeded in shooting down about 85 percent of the several hundred rockets (of 1,400 launched) headed for Israeli populated areas, this was a unique situation. The Israeli enemy was a terrorist organization (Hamas) operating out of an area (Gaza) that is basically home for Palestinian refugees who have been there for over 60 years and want nothing less than the destruction of Israel. A similar organization (Hezbollah) controls southern Lebanon and is also dedicated to the destruction of Israel, using 40,000 unguided rockets they received from Iran.
There are some nations (South Korea in particular) that are threatened by unguided rockets fired from a neighbor. Actually, South Korea has shown some interest in Iron Dome but there are few countries in a similar situation. Meanwhile, Israel is organizing a force of 13 Iron Dome batteries to defeat Hezbollah and Hamas rocket attacks. Each of the five existing Iron Dome batteries has radar and control equipment and three or four missile launchers (each containing twenty missiles). Each battery costs about $40 million, which includes up to a hundred Tamir missiles (costing $90,000 each). The U.S. contributed nearly $300 million for development of Iron Dome.
The key to Iron Dome’s success is its software. Iron Dome uses two radars to quickly calculate the trajectory of the incoming rocket and does nothing if the rocket trajectory indicates it is going to land in an uninhabited area. But if the computers predict a rocket coming down in an inhabited area, a Tamir guided missile is fired to intercept the rocket. This makes the system cost-effective. That's because most of these unguided rockets land in uninhabited areas but the few of those that do land in populated areas inflict casualties.
There’s nothing special about the rest of the Iron Dome system. The Tamir missiles each weigh 90 kg (200 pound), are three meters (9.8 feet) long, and 160mm in diameter. They have the usual components of a guided missile (rocket motor, electronics, and mechanical devices to actuate the fins and batteries). Without the predictive software Iron Dome would quickly run out of missiles and be much more expensive to operate as well.