March 18, 2011 | 180 comments
It’s come under fire again from Gaza. Why weren’t its defense systems ready? (Updated, March 28, 2:05 p.m.)
(Page 2 of 4)
The system was co-developed by America’s military, Northrup Grumman, and Israel in a program begun in 1996; THEL was tested at the White Sands Missile Range in 1998. An initial operating capability (IOC) was penciled in for 1999, but THEL was never deployed. Unfortunately, it seems that few in authority put much faith in the fact that rockets, artillery shells, and mortar rounds can in fact be shot down with high-energy beams of light from a Deuterium Fluoride laser.
But in 2004 tests, THEL was said to approach 100% effectiveness intercepting Katusha rockets, artillery shells, and mortar rounds at ranges of up to five kilometers. In fact, if pursued, THEL might have been deployed as a fixed defense by 2004, protecting Israelis against the fire that triggered the current conflict.
Why isn’t THEL defending Israel now? There are several reasons on the record, one being that the Israeli Defense Forces wanted a mobile version, MTHEL, and therefore decided not to deploy the fixed system. An MTHEL program was launched, but its funding was reduced. The cutback slowed development and MTHEL’s operational date slid to 2010. It is still sliding, apparently.
Other criticisms included its use of corrosive fuels, and the vulnerability of their tanks, but this would seem to apply more to MTHEL than THEL which could have been placed in hardened locations. Also, critics said THEL’s range was too short and, besides, it’s often cloudy in northern Israel, therefore the laser might have been ineffective. Of course, it’s also clear often, and it’s normally clear on the Gaza border, whence most of the missiles seem to come.
At any rate, after expending more than $300 million, according to the New York Times, THEL appears to have been shelved in 2006, at least in its fixed-defense form.
Even so, some programs live on beneath the radar, and THEL may be one of them though facts are hard to come by. If so, THEL’s cost per engagement may be a plus. Though hardly cheap, as defense systems go THEL’s operation is not overly costly. Shooting down an incoming missile with THEL costs an estimated $3,000. That may be less than a tenth the price of a guided anti-missile, and dirt cheap compared to a human life.
Israel could have sited hardened THEL batteries at strategic locations along its borders, especially near Gaza, and soon convinced Hamas that their cheap rockets were a waste of time. Ditto for the better Grad/Katusha rockets Hamas is now receiving. Compared with the speed of light, the most sophisticated rocket is a very slow creature.
Instead, Israel’s answer to the problem of incoming fire from Gaza and Lebanon has been Iron Dome, developed domestically by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems at a price which Haaretz estimates at about $250 million plus about $50 million per battery. The U.S. contributed more than $200 million to its development. The cost of its anti-missiles is not stated, but “cost of intercept” is apparently runs to five figures, according to military sources.
Iron Dome uses a missile to kill a missile. It is capable of destroying an incoming rocket in less than half a minute, though it can’t engage targets much closer than about 1.7 miles.
Unfortunately, Iron Dome has two immediate problems. The first is that the Palestinians attacked before the system was deployed, and only now is a single battery active. The second, future, problem is whether firing a relatively expensive anti-missile against a stove-pipe rocket is affordable in the long run.
While there are few figures on the cost of Iron Dome’s anti-missile (defensetech.org cites a price of about $50,000, but confirmation is hard to find), it must cost far more than a stove-pipe rocket built by unpaid amateur labor in a Gaza garage. Whatever the cost of its anti-missile, the Israeli military appears to think it’s high, according to defensetech.org.
Tactically, it’s an open question whether the Palestinians will try to saturate Iron Dome with large numbers of stove-pipe rockets, making it too costly to be practical. They could also fire a cloud of stove-pipe rockets, empty Iron Dome’s magazines, then begin firing the more dangerous Grad/Katusha at undefended targets.
According to Israeli media reports, the country is thought to have just the one mobile Iron Dome battery available at the moment, according to YnetNews.com, the one sent south last week to protect the territory bordering Gaza. However while proof tests were successful, there is always some question about effectiveness until any system has been battle tested. This would be Iron Dome’s first use defending against an actual attack. Hopefully, it’s up to the challenge. The Israeli military, hedging its bets, is calling this “an operational experiment,” adding that full operational capability lies in the future.
Even if Iron Dome performs flawlessly, there are issues of quantity and availability.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?