Israeli Iron Dome system needed for Saudi defense
The US Department of Defense has announced it will send additional troops and possibly the Israeli Iron Dome system to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to reinforce air defenses. While the exact locations for additional air defenses have not been announced, the most likely deployment would be along Saudi Arabia’s northern border facing Iraq and Iran. The US will also install some point defense systems (radars plus guns) around critical oil facilities and military bases.
The Israeli Iron Dome system is the best system for protecting Saudi assets from a similar attack. The US Army bought two Iron Dome batteries from Israel with delivery expected in 2020. Whether Israel could quickly deliver a system to meet the current urgent need is unclear. Right now the US lacks ideal systems to counter cruise missiles and drones.
Iron Dome was developed by Rafael in Israel and Raytheon in the United States to deal with the threat of short-range missiles, primarily those being fired by Hamas in the Gaza strip. The system has performed brilliantly against these threats. Each Iron Dome battery includes three to four stationary launchers that contain 20 Tamir interceptor missiles and a battlefield radar system. The US is buying 240 Tamir interceptor missiles, 12 launchers, and two radar systems and command trailers.
The Iron Dome system has performed remarkably well over the past eight years, according to defense writer Sébastien Roblin. “Since 2011, the Israel Defense Force has used the Iron Dome system to shoot down over 1,700 unguided rockets and mortar shells launched by militants in Lebanon, Syria, and the Gaza Strip against Israeli communities. An Iron Dome battery can also engage aircraft, drones, large artillery shells and possibly even cruise and ballistic missiles – as proven by its shootdown of an Iranian Fateh ballistic missile on January 20, 2019.”
It is likely the US will also temporarily deploy additional Patriot air defense batteries, particularly around the oil fields, and put radars on towers to better detect incoming cruise missiles and drones. Patriot was never optimized against cruise missiles or drones, but it can nevertheless provide some defensive capability.
Patriot can be augmented by rapid-fire gun emplacements that can provide terminal defense. These can be cued by ground-based radar and feature electro-optical sensors.
The best of them is the Navy’s Phalanx rapid-fire 20mm gun system. The land version of Phalanx is called C-RAM for counter rocket, artillery and mortar system and has a forward-looking infrared camera to identify incoming threats. The US and British forces used C-RAM in Iraq.
There are other systems in Europe that might be available if the US asked for them. These include the Nächstbereichschutzsystem MANTIS: 35mm fully automated C-RAM system, produced by Rheinmetall based on Oerlikon’s Skyshield and ordered by the German Air Force and in use from 2011.
Italy also has an excellent system called DRACO that uses a super-rapid 76mm gun. Its main advantage is its 76mm (3 inch) round which can effectively destroy larger threats such as cruise missiles. The 20mm rapid-fire systems probably need to hit larger targets multiple times.
It has to be strongly emphasized that the US is poorly prepared against cruise missile and drone threats, which is why it turned to Israel for help.