Two views of Iron Dome’s success in Israel
A column by weapons analyst David Axe was published by Reuters Opinion on July 25, 2014, (Israel’s Iron Dome is more like an iron sieve). Physicist Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was one of the experts quoted in Axe’s column. He opposes the construction of missile defense systems largely on the ground that they cannot be made to work under nearly any circumstances. Based on his research, Postol believes that fewer than 10 percent of Iron Dome’s intercepts are successful.
Uzi Rubin vehemently disagrees with Axe’s findings. An Israeli expert on missile defense, he has worked on the Iron Dome system and embraces the Israeli government’s position that Iron Dome’s success rate is around 90 percent. Rubin disputes Postol’s research findings.
Neither the views of Postol or of Rubin have been independently verified by Reuters.
David Axe: Iron Dome is more like an iron sieve
Uzi Rubin: Iron Dome is an ironclad success
Here is Postol’s response to Rubin’s critique (presented here in italics).
The way Postol is gathering his evidence, through video clips, isn’t sufficient to tell whether Iron Dome is working successfully.
We can determine the geometry of an intercept attempt by simply following the smoke trail of the Iron Dome interceptor as observed in the daylight sky. We cannot see the incoming rockets, but we know that they are falling at a very high angle – 20 degrees to 30 degrees from vertical. We infer that the Iron Dome interceptor could not possibly destroy an incoming rocket if it engages it from the side or from behind. That’s because the only geometry where the interceptor has some chance of destroying the warhead is when it engages the target head-on.
We have observed a very small number of engagements where the Iron Dome interceptor is executing a geometry that is frontal. This by itself indicates that perhaps no more than 10 percent to 20 percent of the engagements have a chance of resulting in an intercept.
The two chief critics, Postol and Richard Lloyd of Tesla Laboratory Inc., don’t agree on Iron Dome’s failure rate, calling into question the accuracy of their results.
If I have a guesstimate that Iron Dome’s success rate is probably less than 5 percent, and Dick Lloyd has an estimate of 10 percent to 20 percent, how would this indicate that the probable level of success exceeds 90 percent?
The data collected isn’t from this war and is out of date.
We have collected enough data from July 2014 to state without reservation that the system is not performing. In fact, we cannot see any evidence that the system is performing in any way better than it did in November 2012.
In the 2006 conflict, before Iron Dome was in place, there were much higher casualties in Israel from rocket attacks. The improvement in casualty numbers can’t be attributed primarily to civil defense measures, which were similar then.
I don’t know what system was in place in 2006, but I do know that the phone applications now used to warn people of possible rocket attacks are a new innovation in the civilian early-warning system. This system substantially improves the warning time to individuals, which would have the effect of reduce casualties from rocket attacks.
Why aren’t there more signs of destruction if Iron Dome isn’t working, and it’s just civil defense that’s saving lives?
There will certainly be impact craters in the areas where Iron Dome is reputedly defending against the rockets. In fact, the number should be nearly the same number as if Iron Dome didn’t exist.