- The US Army on Wednesday announced that it would buy an Israeli missile-defence system to protect its soldiers in a de facto admission that existing US missile defences just don’t work.
- Israel’s Iron Dome system took a $US429 million investment from the US in 2014 and, since then, has successfully intercepted more than 1,000 incoming projectiles.
- The US’s comparable Patriot missile-defence system hasn’t faced much opposition, but in the hands of Saudi Arabia it has failed spectacularly against modest threats.
- The Army said the Iron Dome buy is only a stopgap, and they will keep looking at other options. But that’s just a nice way of saying it passed over the Patriot.
The US Army on Wednesday announced that it would buy an Israeli missile-defence system to protect its soldiers in a de facto admission that existing US missile defences just don’t work.
“The U.S. Army has announced its intent to procure a limited number of Iron Dome weapon systems to fill its short-term need for an interim Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC),” a US Army statement sent to Business Insider read.
Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defence system, indigenously designed with a $US429 million US investment backing it, represents the world’s only example of working missile defence.
While the US, Russia, and China work on high-end missile systems meant to shoot down stealth aircraft in ultra-high-tech wars with electronic and cyber warfare raging along the sidelines, none of these countries’ systems actually block many missiles, rockets, or mortars.
On the other hand, Israel’s Iron Dome has shot down more than 1,200 projectiles since going operational in 2011. Constant and sporadic attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian-aligned forces in Syria have turned Israel into a hotbed of rocket and mortar activity, and the system just plain works.
Not only do the sensors and shooters track and hit targets reliably, the Iron Dome, unlike other systems, can tell if a projectile is going to miss a target and thereby save a $US100,000 interceptor fire.
While the system does not run entirely without error, US and Israeli officials consistently rate the dome as having a 90% success rate on the Gaza border, one of the most active places in the world for ballistic projectiles.
But the US already has missile defences for its forces.
The 2019 Missile Defence Review said the US’s Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile-defence system has a “proven combat record,” though US officials inflated its success rate during Operation Desert Storm.
The US, unlike Israel, which is surrounded by enemies bent on its ultimate destruction, doesn’t get many enemies firing ballistic missiles at its forces. Still, to protect its soldiers, the Army typically deploys Patriot defences to its bases to protect against short-range missile attacks. In Iraq, the US Army also experimented with a Phalanx gun system that would rapid fire 20mm rounds at incoming rockets and mortars.
But Saudi Arabia, a weaker US ally, has put its Patriot defences to the test and found them severely wanting either through user error or failings of the system itself.
In repeated missile strikes from Houthi rebels using relatively unsophisticated Iranian ballistic missiles, the Patriot missile defences have failed, sometimes spectacularly.
Nobody wants the Patriot
Despite Saudi Arabia claiming a high success rate for the missile system, it proceeded to talk to Russia about obtaining advanced S-400 missile defences after the Patriot failures. NATO allies such as Turkey have also sought to augment their defences with the Russian system, causing friction with the US and others.
Overall, the US Army’s statement announcing the Iron Dome purchase made it clear that this would just be a short-term buy while the US assesses its options.
“The Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed U.S. military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats… it should be noted that the U.S. Army will assess a variety of options for” the long term, the statement continued.
But the Army is well aware of its own Patriot system and any planned or possible updates.
By buying an Israel system with a great track record and overlooking a US system with a checkered past, the US may have finally admitted its shortcomings in missile defence.