WASHINGTON — The Israeli military and the U.S. Army are taking steps to tie the Army’s two Iron Dome batteries into the service’s missile defense program of record, potentially moving the Israeli equipment away from its current status as a one-off gap filler in the U.S. inventory, according to officials from both countries.
The Army bought two Iron Dome batteries from Israel in order to fill a gap in cruise missile defense as it develops its own indirect fire protection capability, but has stressed it won’t buy more of the stand-alone systems, partly because the Israeli government has been unwilling to turn over its proprietary source code.
But at a May 30 Center for Strategic and International Studies event, Moshe Patel, who heads the Israel Missile Defense Organization, said he believed relevant information sharing limitations between the two countries have now been resolved.
“I can tell you that just recently, we solved all the issues and problems that they have and we are going to give them the right solutions and whatever they need in order to integrate fully the capability of Iron Dome inside their systems,” Patel said in response to a question about whether he believed Iron Dome could be integrated into the U.S. system, as opposed to being merely interoperable.
“More than that, we deployed two Iron Dome batteries already that we are willing to fully integrate those Iron Dome batteries into the [Integrated Battle Command System] and whatever is needed,” he added.
The IBCS, which is the Army’s command-and-control system that will connect sensors and interceptors across the battlefield, was recently approved for full-rate production. Army officials have maintained if a system can’t connect with IBCS, it can’t be a part of the service’s emerging air-and-missile defense architecture.
While the Army has deployed Iron Dome to Guam for a short period of time to evaluate its capability in an operational environment, it has yet to talk about how it might deploy it or any plans for the two systems in detail.
Tom Karako, a missile defense expert at CSIS, said earlier this year that Iron Dome cannot be integrated into the Army’s future air and missile defense network until Israeli provides access to the source code, with cybersecurity a major concern.
“Unless Israel permits access to address these concerns, these two batteries will remain a standalone niche capability,” he wrote in a recent opinion piece. “As such, the Army seems to not know what to do with them.”
Technological solutions exist to tie Iron Dome effectively into the Army’s air-and-missile defense architecture that don’t require the Israelis to pass over proprietary source code, former Missile Defense Agency director retired Lt. Gen. Henry Obering wrote in an opinion piece for Defense News in 2020.
“One option could be through technical escrow accounts, which would allow trusted national security officials to process integration without putting Israeli ingenuity at risk,” he writes. “At the same time, the United States does not need proprietary Israeli intellectual property to derive use from the air defense system. Integrating the Iron Dome within U.S. defenses would be ideal, but there are still discreet interoperable uses for the system, similar to how the Marines reportedly connected it to their Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar.”
Patel pointed to several other efforts where Iron Dome was able to connect effectively such as the command-and-control element of the brand new AN/SPY-6 radar aboard Navy destroyers and the Marine Corps’ air defense system as well.
“Whatever we can help you in the United States to have better defense and to fill your gap, we will do with all the support that we have received from you along the years. I think that is our obligation,” he said.
“As of today, the Army does not have a requirement for the Iron Dome software,” Doug Bush, the Army’s acquisition chief told Defense News in a June 1 statement sent through a spokesperson. “However, given recent discussions that issue is under review.”
Currently, the Army has “an acceptable interoperability strategy in place with an existing command and control system planned for implementation by the end of the calendar year,” Bush added. “This approach ensures the Army’s two Iron Dome systems will be effective if they are deployed.”
Even so, IBCS is the “critical element that connects everything,” Bush said. “Commanders could make the decision to employ United States-owned Iron Dome units for specific missions and threats, but the long term operational defensive design for air defense relies on IBCS and IBCS-enabled equipment.”
While Iron Dome’s future with the U.S. force structure remains uncertain, Rafael, the company that developed and manufactured Iron Dome in a partnership with the United States government and U.S. based Raytheon, is also setting its sights on the possibility that some parts of Iron Dome could see wider adoption.
For example, while the Army picked Raytheon’s AIM-9X for its first Indirect Fires Protection Capability missile, the service plans to evaluate and hold competitions later on for other missiles to add to the inventory that are capable of taking out rockets, artillery and mortars as well as cruise missiles and drones. Iron Dome’s Tamir interceptor would likely be a candidate in any future IFPC interceptor competition.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.