Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rocket science

Israel is protected by a four layered interlocking anti-missile system. At the lowest level, taking care of short range rockets, is the Iron Dome system, then there is David's Sling that counteracts medium range missiles, and finally the Arrow 3 and 4 that are for long range ballistic missiles. Israel is the only country in the world that has such an effective anti-missile defense.

Once such anti-missile systems were thought to be science fiction or fantasy. Remember Pres. Reagan's 1983 Star War's anti-missile defense system, that a lot of liberal intellectuals laughed at. Well guess what, it's here, the Iron Dome system works. In 2012, when hundreds of rockets were fired from Gaza, in operational mode the Iron Dome batteries in Southern Israel had an 85% success rate when it was fired. It also sounds an alarm called the "Code Red" that alerts civilians giving them from seconds to minutes of warning to take cover. It's software computes the trajectory of the incoming rocket and decides whether or not to fire the anti-missile depending on whether or not the incoming rocket will hit a selected target, such as an urban area or a strategic target such as an army camp. If it is only going to land in a field the Iron Dome is not activated. This save a lot of money, since ca. 30% of rockets land harmlessly.

The difference between a rocket and a missile is that the former is a primitive weapon with only explosive fuel to launch it and no guidance system, it is inaccurate and contains a small amount of explosive. Typically for a Kassam rocket launched from Gaza the range is 30-40 km. A larger Grad rocket may have up to 70 km range that brings a large portion of Israel within its range. But, a more dangerous missile is for example the Fajr-5, an Iranian missile that has a rocket motor and a guidance system and can reach over 120 km range. It is more accurate and contains more high explosive and can demolish a whole building. Iran has shipped thousands of these rockets to Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon, although relatively few were fired during the rocket barrage on the north of Israel in 2012. But then the Iron Dome was not operational in Northern Israel.

Now Israel has in excess of 13 Iron Dome batteries and although this is not enough to cover the whole country, it is very effective. One must emphasize that very dedicated scientists and military people worked hard for years to develop this system and it was an all-Israeli product. However, one must also acknowledge that the US Government gave many millions of dollars to buy the systems that are deployed to protect Israel. The David's Sling system is not quite operational yet, but has passed all tests, and the Arrow-4 system is still being developed in cooperation with the US. Unfortunately our enemies are geting smarter and are putting GPS positioning on their long-range rockets to increase their accuracy.

The big question is, are these systems "cost-effective? There is no simple answer to this question. Consider that for every $1,000-3,000 Kassam rocket fired, each Iron Dome anti-missile costs ca. $20,000. However, since the Iron Dome is so effective, it prevents death and destruction on a large scale in Israel. The IDF was poised to invade Gaza in 2012 as a result of the massive rocket barrage, about 700 rockets were fired in a few days. But, the absence of civilian casualties and limited property damage meant that a costly invasion, costly both in men and money, was avoided. Even one day of fighting in Gaza would have cost ten times more than the anti-missiles fired. So is it cost effective? That's not rocket science. Can you put a price on lives saved? Israel emphasizes saving lives while our enemies emphasize dying for their cause.

This blog is based on a lecture given by an anonymous rocket scientist, but all the information quoted has already been published. If I told you more I would have to kill myself and you, in that order.


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