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Army activates Iron Dome batteries at Fort Bliss to test Israeli-built air defense systems

Then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper tours an Iron Dome display with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 29, 2020.

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 13, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Army on Friday activated two new air defense artillery batteries at Fort Bliss, Texas, charged with evaluating the two Iron Dome missile defense systems that the United States recently purchased from Israel.

The units will spend several months testing Iron Dome at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., near Fort Bliss to help the Army determine whether the system should be integrated into its range of air defense capabilities, the Army announced in a statement.

Iron Dome, built by Israeli defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, is designed to shoot down short-range projectiles launched within about 40 miles and has proven a critical piece in Israel’s homeland defense system since it was first deployed in 2011.

The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Pentagon to purchase the two Iron Dome batteries and begin testing them this year. The Army said all of the soldiers in the two new batteries should arrive at Fort Bliss by Monday.

Those soldiers will help Army Futures Command determine whether Iron Dome fits into the service’s plans for modernizing its approach to protection from airborne threats. That approach is built around a platform known as Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense, which aims to link all of its air defense interceptors to sensors across a given battle space to detect, track and destroy a threat, Army officials have said.

Gen. John “Mike” Murray said earlier this year that Iron Dome was already a “very capable and proven” anti-missile weapon, but he told lawmakers that it was not certain it could easily plug into the Integrated Air and Missile Defense platform.

Iron Dome’s manufacturer, Rafael, touts the system as the world’s most-used air defense platform. The company claims Iron Dome has conducted more than 2,500 intercepts of real-world threats with a more than 90% success rate.

It can target rockets, mortars, artillery shells, short-range cruise missiles and even some aircraft, including helicopters and drones at short ranges, according to Rafael. Iron Dome’s interceptor missiles are built by U.S. defense contractor Raytheon.

The Army said Friday that it will conduct enough testing to prepare Iron Dome to be deployed by late next year. At that point, the service will determine what role Iron Dome will have in the Army’s future air and missile defense portfolio, according to the statement.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: CDicksteinDC