Behind the Iron Dome

Absolutely fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal, by Charles Levinson and Adam Entous, about Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile-defense shield. Nothing I can excerpt here will do justice to the article; it reads like a cross between an HBR case study and a Tom Clancy novel. Perhaps not so surprising from a startup nation. Meanwhile, there are unintended consequences of having built such strong aerial defense; see this one in particular.


I find the sidestepping of bureaucracy to be interesting. There are many stories about boondoggles and/or malfeasance, especially from the US military, where contracts don't go through proper channels. It is great when skirting the system leads to positive results, like Iron Dome. I wonder about the ratio of successes to failures when rules are broken during the procurement process.


The WSJ article may be fascinating, but it is also, alas, paywalled.

Bourree Lam

This post has been updated, try the link now it should work

Eric Hamilton

Thanks, I should have read the comments before putting in my complaint.


From my experience in the Israeli defense industry, there is a optimal point to the number of rules that can be broken. Don't break enough rules and your project will take too long, and will be killed, most likely by requirements creep. Break too many rules and you will lose the support of your management. The mark of a good Program Manager is the ability to find that optimum.

Ward Harris

Why link to a site that requires you to purchase a subscription in order to read the article? Is the WSJ one of your sponsers?

Eric Hamilton

Nice of you to point to an item behind a pay-wall!


From an Israeli article, talking about how Iron Dome did:

"According to the defense minister, in the lead-up to the cease-fire the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system – developed by the Defense Ministry – destroyed more than 400 rockets. As a result, only 70 hits in urban areas – an 85 percent success rate. No less impressive is the statistic that only 500 Tamir interceptor missiles were launched. This means that Iron Dome's achievement was reached in an incredibly cost-effective way, since in most cases, only one intercept was needed to destroy a Grad or Fajr rocket inflight. The United States' Patriot system's missiles are several times more expensive than Iron Dome's interceptor missiles and it routinely fires two missiles per target."

Couple of notes. First, all but one of the deployed Iron Domes was 1st generation. The new generation is apparently a significant improvement. Second, Israel successfully tested its large missile defense system a few days ago. I think it's called David's Sling or something like that. It's for big missiles.

One of the most interesting things, which the linked article only mentions, is the "cheaper approach" urged by the US has, I believe, been shelved because it failed. That was, per Israeli articles, a laser system by Northrop.


Eric M. Jones.

My physics professor used to call the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict "Cowboy Mentality", by which he meant the whacky notion that a single ass-kicking will settle the whole thing. Done....

Errrrrh....maybe not. Each stage of escalation invites new types of retaliation and new warfare inventions. Each so-called invulnerable defense invites the creation of so-called unstoppable offensive weapons.

As it has always been, and so it will always be. "Iron Dome" only pleases the totally clueless and eases the continuation of the conflict until the next terrible thing happens.

And it will.


Well, that's life. It's like medicine: we've virtually eliminated diseases, from killers of millions like smallpox & polio down to measles & mumps, so now we live longer (on average) and get to die of cancer & heart disease.

Bjorn Roche

Is this like the Patriot missiles, where in a few years we are going to find out they don't actually work that well?


Not likely. Patriot had one documented intercept of a Scud in the Gulf War. Iron Dome has more than 500 documented intercepts. This thing is for real.


If only someone could invent a defense shield to neutralize suicide bombers before they strike.