WASHINGTON: The United States received its first of two Iron Dome batteries from Israel on Wednesday just over a year after signing a purchase agreement, the Defense Ministry said, though the American military will likely not buy additional systems going forward.
“These batteries will be employed in the defense of US troops against a variety of ballistic and aerial threats,” the ministry said.
The US and Israel signed an agreement for the purchase of the two batteries — each of which include a launcher and missiles made by Rafael Advanced Systems Ltd., a radar array made by the ELTA defense contractor, and a command-and-control center developed by the mPrest firm — last August, with initial plans to buy both two more units and to consider deeper integration of the Israeli air defense system.
In March, however, the US Army said it was scrapping its purchase of the two additional batteries and the further incorporation of the Iron Dome into its aerial defenses.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who recently returned from a trip to Washington, hailed the sale as proof of close cooperation between the US and Israel.
“Last week I visited the United States and met with senior officials in the US Department of Defense and in the military. Among other things, we discussed procurement and information sharing in the field of technology. The completion of this agreement serves as further proof that the defense alliance [between the US and Israel], is based on common values and interests, which are stronger than ever,” Gantz said in a statement.
To mark the sale, Gantz, along with Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel; one of the main designers of the Iron Dome, Dani Gold; other top defense officials and Economy and Industry Minister Amir Peretz held a ceremony in front of the battery on Wednesday.
The Iron Dome system, which was first developed in Israel but was expanded significantly with US funding, has been in operational use for nearly a decade in Israel, principally against rockets
fired from the Gaza Strip, but also along the Syrian border. It represents the lowest tier of the country’s multi-leveled air defense array, joined by the mid-range David’s Sling, and the long-range Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 missile systems.
“In the coming year, the Iron Dome system will complete ten years of operational activity, with over 2,400 interceptions. This activity has saved hundreds of lives. It is a great privilege for the State of Israel to deliver the first out of two Iron Dome batteries to the US Army, for the protection of American troops,” Moshe Patel, head of the Defense Ministry’s Israel Missile Defense Organization.
“The very fact that we are handing over the first battery, a year after the agreement was signed, is an achievement in itself, alongside production for the benefit of the State of Israel, we have met the requirements of the US military,” he added.
The Defense Ministry said the “second battery will be delivered in the near future within the framework of the agreement.”
Though Israeli officials hailed the speed with which the country supplied the batteries to the US, the head of the US Army Futures Command, Gen. Mike Murray, cited the amount of time it took to receive the Iron Dome as a reason to call off plans to purchase additional units, alongside the apparent refusal of Israel to turn over the system’s underlying computer code.
“It took us longer to acquire those [first] two batteries than we would have liked,” Murray told the House Armed Service tactical air and land forces subcommittee in March. “We believe we cannot integrate them into our air defense system based on some interoperability challenges, some cyber challenges and some other challenges.”
In 2019, the US Army earmarked over $1 billion for the project to pluck select Iron Dome components and integrate them with US military’s Integrated Battle Command System by 2023.
Soon thereafter, according to sources, US Army officials repeatedly requested Iron Dome “source code” — proprietary information detailing how the system works. Israel supplied engineering information but ultimately declined to provide the source code the US Army said it needed to integrate Iron Dome components with its systems.
The Army decision was based on the impasse over Iron Dome’s source code, not shortcomings identified in a physical technical assessment.
In March, the US Army said it was adjusting its Iron Dome plans in light of the issue.
“So what we’ve ended up having was two standalone batteries that will be very capable but they cannot be integrated into our air defense system,” Murray told Congress.
The head of Rafael’s Air and Missile Defense Division, Pini Yungman, appeared to comment on the matter, saying the Iron Dome’s capabilities would not be changed.
“The Iron Dome system which will serve the US military is tailored according to US requirements. This being said, its performance capabilities as seen in Israel will remain the same,” he said.