Air Defense: Protecting The Future

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June 23, 2021: During the recent ten-day war between Hamas and Israel, one of the most heavily defended, against rocket attack, areas in Israel was the coastal town of Ashkelon. It was not just the 120,000 residents but also the Tamar natural gas platform 24 kilometers off the coast. That platform has been extracting huge quantities of natural gas and moving it via a pipeline to Israeli and foreign customers. These natural gas facilities have been the target of Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket attacks for over five years without success. In response Hamas has been developing other weapons to do what their rockets cannot. This includes attacks from the sea using unmanned submersible (just below the surface) boats full of explosives and guided by GPS. Israel had detected and defeated these attacks as well. But during the recent war Hamas used some of their longer-range rockets possibly equipped with Iranian guidance kits. Firing dozens of these guided rockets at the Tamar platform at once could overwhelm the Iron Dome defenses. To deal with this Israel has made provisions for quickly moving more air defense weapons to defend against such attacks. One thing Israel has already done is develop the capability to quickly shut down natural gas extraction and drain the platform and natural gas pipeline so that if the platform is hit the damage will be less extensive and more quickly repaired. Hitting the platform while it is at work would ignite a lot of natural gas and do a lot more damage. Israel has used the shut-down capability several times when it seemed a major rocket attack was imminent.

Israel began pumping natural gas in 2013 from deposits discovered off Ashkelon and developed since 2008. In 2019 the even larger natural gas fields near the Lebanese coast began producing. Israeli firms have found over $200 billion worth of oil and gas there so far and even more up north than at Tamar. Israel is determined to use these finds to achieve energy independence sometime in the 2020s. Israel expects to be natural gas independent (of imports) by 2022. Currently natural gas accounts for over 70 percent of electricity production and as more offshore natural gas becomes available it will replace coal and oil in many areas.

This makes it very important that the offshore facilities and pipelines be defended from terrorists and military threats. Some of the offshore gas wells are within range of rockets fired from Gaza or southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah still does as it wants. The unguided rockets were not accurate enough to hit a gas platform but now dozens of guided rockets fired at once are a threat, especially if some or all of them are guided. To counter that tactic the offshore platforms were designed to be equipped with the new naval version of Iron Dome called C-Dome, as well as other new air defense systems.

In late 2017 Israel declared the modifications to the Iron Dome fire control system and the more advanced Adir system used on Saar corvettes ready for service as C-Dome on ships or offshore platforms. This upgrade effort began in early 2016 with tests that demonstrated Iron Dome could be operated from a ship or offshore platform. This version was called C-Dome. The late 2017 tests were to confirm that Iron Dome batteries on land could share target information with Saar class ships offshore. The late 2017 tests were done using a Saar 5 class corvette, which does not normally carry the C-Dome system. But the ability of ship based and land-based Iron Dome systems to share information means that Saar class corvettes can be quickly moved to the north (near the Lebanese border) or south (the Gaza border) to provide additional Iron Dome radar coverage as well as the use of the ship-based Barak 8 anti-aircraft missiles. Iron Dome and C-Dome have a unique feature in which the radar system computes where the incoming rocket will land. If the rocket will not hit an inhabited (by ships, people or off-shore facility) area, it will be ignored. Otherwise, an interceptor missile will be fired.

Earlier in 2017 Israel revealed that it had modified the design of the four Saar 6 corvettes being built in Germany to improve their anti-missile capabilities. The modification added two launchers (each with 20 Tamir missiles) used by the Iron Dome and C-Dome. This delayed the service date for the first Saar 6 until late 2020. The second Saar was in service by May 2021 The other two will arrive in 2022. The latest change means the 2,000-ton Saar 6 will be armed with a 76mm cannon, a remotely operated 25mm autocannon, 32 VLS cells for Barak 8 air defense against aircraft and missiles, C-Dome, 16 anti-ship missiles, two torpedo tubes and a helicopter (like the SH-60). The 90-meter (288 foot) ship has a max speed of 46 kilometers an hour, crew of 70 and enough fuel and food to remain at sea ten days at a time. The ships are equipped with an AESA radar like the one used for the Aegis air defense system found on most American warships. Both Barak 8 and C-Dome missiles have a range of 70 kilometers and use the same Israeli designed AESA radar and fire control system.

The Saar 6 ships will mainly guard the Mediterranean Coast, especially the offshore natural gas fields. Saar 6 is one of a growing number of land and air-based systems devoted to defense of the natural gas fields.

 


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