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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Iron Dome: Coming Soon to the U.S. Marine Corps?

Iron Dome. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Iron Dome launcher at the Israeli Air Force exhibition at Ramat David AFB on Israel's 69th Independence Day.

Israel’s Defense Ministry announced that the U.S. Marine Corp completed a successful live test of an air-defense prototype derived from the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) Iron Dome system this week. The Israeli-based prototype is a medium-range intercept capability system (MRIC) that incorporates the Iron Dome launcher and the Israeli Tamir interceptor missile. 

During its first testing round, MRIC successfully reached various simultaneously-launched targets, meant to mimic cruise missiles from numerous directions and on varied trajectories. Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system plays a pivotal role in the country’s overall military strategy. Its success in thwarting projectiles launched from nearby adversaries could serve as a useful asset to the Marine Corp’s potential future encounters. 

Following the completion of the successful trial, the Executive Vice President of the Rafael company that makes the Iron Dome sang its praises. The Rafael official said “Once again, the Iron Dome has proven its effectiveness and operational capabilities in combat scenarios. Rafael is proud to continue proving itself as a world leader in developing the most advanced defense systems, which have proven themselves time after time.” In 2021, U.S. troops conducted their initial test of the Iron Dome system without fully integrating it into their own systems. The Marine Corp’s G/ATOR radar, developed by the American company Northrop Grumman, and a Common Aviation Command and Control System (CSC2S) were involved with the recent successful test of the Dome variant. 

Iron Dome Was Purpose Built

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems collaborated with Israel Aerospace Industries to design the Iron Dome, which first became operational and deployed in 2011. The purpose of the air defense system aimed at intercepting and destroying short-range projectiles from distances ranging from 2.5 miles to 90 miles away. Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been surrounded by adversaries that at various points in history engaged in hostile cross-border barrages targeting the Jewish state. 

An aerial defense system capable of protecting Israeli skies and citizens became a top priority for the IDF, which led to the concept and eventual design of the Dome. While the Dome was originally developed to intercept rockets, its technology has evolved to allow it to take down unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), mortar shells, and cruise missiles.

U.S. Marines Test the Iron Dome, But Israel is Hesitant to Give it to Ukraine

The Iron Dome recently made headlines when Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky made a public appeal to the Israeli government to export its air defense system to help thwart Russia’s frequent barrages amidst its invasion and occupation of the country. 

Israel has not handed over the Iron Dome or its components to Ukraine for several reasons. First, the Jewish state does not want to anger the Kremlin, which plays a crucial role in neighboring Syria. For security reasons, Israel needs to be able to function in Syria and take out Iranian assets and facilities, which Russian Forces could prevent. Second, the Dome would likely not work well in Ukrainian terrain. It is effective in Israel because the small size of the country only requires a minimal number of radar and interceptors. Since Ukraine is much larger and the points of Russian barrages are far more spread out, the Dome’s short-range system would not be as effective. 

While the Iron Dome was created in Israel, its transformation over the years into the formidable defense asset it represents today was largely made possible with U.S. funding. In 2019, Israel sold two Iron Dome batteries to the U.S., which American forces have been working to integrate into their own air defense systems. As explained by The Times of Israel, Israel is not against exporting its Dome technology to allies but is concerned with leaking the proprietary technologies to its enemies that make the system function. 

The U.S. Hopes to Make Use of the Iron Dome Technology

The U.S. has become increasingly interested in acquiring the Dome technology for its own defense purposes. This year, Commandant Gen. David Berger testified in front of Congress to explain the capabilities the Dome would provide U.S. forces. “Based on ongoing operations in Ukraine, and lessons learned from recent conflicts in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, we believe these [ground-based air defense] programs to be essential for our Marine expeditionary forces,” Berger said. Congress has also called for a push to improve U.S. air defense capabilities. According to the Marine Corps Times, the 2021 defense budget directed the Marine Corp to brief the House Armed Services Committee on actions to acquire the Dome’s technology. 

“The committee understands the MRIC is intended to provide a critically needed capability to defend Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) sites primarily against cruise missiles and secondarily against manned and unmanned aircraft and other aerial threats,” lawmakers said in the bill. “The committee is aware that missile, rocket, mortar threats have become increasingly prevalent with attacks on both U.S. forces and our allies in Iraq.”

An Iron Dome variant would prove to be an effective asset for U.S. armed forces. Its history of successful intercepts and cutting-edge technology would enhance America’s aerial defense systems in any future conflict. 

Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

Written By

Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.