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See Israel's aerial defense systems in action on land and sea

Lauren Frias   

See Israel's aerial defense systems in action on land and sea
Missiles launched from the Iron Dome defense system attempt to intercept a rocket fired from Gaza strip.MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images
  • Israel has one of the most advanced air defense systems.
  • In January, Israeli officials amended its 2024 budget to allocate $15 billion more in war spending.

Israel has some of the most advanced air defenses in the world, systems that have defended its troops and citizens from rocket and missile barrages.

Air defenses are essential to Israel's security. Much of its population is within reach of rockets and missiles fired by Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as the ballistic missiles fired by Yemen's Houthis. These defenses are also expensive.

Earlier this year, Israeli officials amended its 2024 budget to allocate $15 billion more in war spending as Israel's war in Gaza stretches the country's budget thin.

US foreign aid to Israel

US foreign aid to Israel
An archive picture image shows a missile array from the Iron Dome, on July 8, 2014, in Ashdod, Israel      Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

About 15% of Israel's defense budget comes from the US. Since its founding in 1948, the US has sent Israel about $300 billion in economic and military aid, making it the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign aid.

Nearly all of the aid the US has sent in recent months has been allocated to its advanced defense systems and military equipment. But America's involvement in Israel's war on the Gaza Strip has grown controversial. The US is providing limited humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza while also providing military support and weapons to Israel.

More than 30,000 Palestinians have died since October 7, 2023, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza.

Iron Dome

Iron Dome
Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system fires interceptors at rockets launched from the Gaza Strip.      Tsafrir Abayov/AP

The most well-known of Israel's air-defense system, the Iron Dome consists of a network of radar detectors and missile launchers used to intercept enemy fire, including short-range rockets and artillery.

Deployed in southern Israel in 2011 following the war between Israel and Hezbollah, the US helped and funded the development of the short-range rocket defense system. It contributed at least $1.6 billion to the Iron Dome system from 2011 to 2021, as well as another $1 billion in 2022.

The first layer of defense

The first layer of defense
Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from the city of Ashkelon, Israel October 9, 2023.      REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The Israel Defense Forces said the objective of the Iron Dome is to "protect Israeli civilians from the constant threat of rockets by intercepting them." The IDF described the Iron Dome with three adjectives: "accuracy, speed, and capacity."

Armed with Tamir interceptor missiles, the multi-mission defense system can shoot down enemy rockets and artillery up to 43.5 miles away. The advanced missile system has a radar station that detects and tracks the course of enemy rockets before launching a missile to intercept it. The missiles track their target with electro-optical sensors and detonate in the air when close.

While the Iron Dome doesn't have a perfect interception record, it has blocked a majority of enemy fire in Israeli airspace, especially at times of intense barrages from Hamas militants.

But the Iron Dome is just one layer of what is considered one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world.

Missiles are much longer range than shells, but they have the disadvantage of also being expensive. The Tamir missiles fired by Iron Dome are estimated to each cost around $50,000.

David's Sling

David
This Monday, Dec. 21, 2015 file photograph provided by the Israeli Ministry of Defense shows a launch of David's Sling missile defense system.      Ministry of Defense via AP, File

The middle layer of Israel's Iron Dome defense system is David's Sling, a medium- to long-range air defense system designed to intercept rockets fired from up to 185 miles.

Also known as the Magic Wand, the versatile missile system carries up to 12 interceptors. Its command and control center, known as the Golden Almond, provides threat assessment and plans and controls interception, complemented by the system's multi-mission radar used to detect and track airborne threats.

The middle layer of defense

The middle layer of defense
The Israel Missile Defense Organization and the US Missile Defense Agency runs a test of the David's Sling Weapon System.      Leah Garton/DVIDS

Developed in collaboration with the US and Israel, David's Sling is "a central factor in Israel's multi-tiered defense array," according to Israel's Ministry of Defense, supporting other layers of its air defense system by "tackling large-caliber rockets, short-range ballistic missiles," and other types of enemy fire.

Arrow Weapon System

Arrow Weapon System
The Arrow-3 Interceptor missile.      US Missile Defense Agency

The top layer of Israel's sophisticated air defense system is Arrow-3, capable of engaging targets at longer ranges and higher altitudes, as well as more precisely intercepting ballistic missiles.

Arrow-3 interceptor operates with the Arrow Weapon System, the world's first operational, national, stand-alone anti-tactical ballistic missile defense system, according to Israel Aerospace Industries, the primary contractor for the AWS.

Arrow-3 works in conjunction with its predecessor, Arrow-2, to intercept ballistic missiles and other warheads using a two-stage interceptor.

Arrow-3

Arrow-3
An "Arrow 3" ballistic missile interceptor is seen during its test launch near Ashdod December 10, 2015.      REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Arrow-3's "interceptor is a world-class missile that, together with the Arrow-2, significantly expands the State of Israel's defense capabilities," according to Israel's Ministry of Defense.

In November 2023, Israel confirmed the first operational use of the Arrow-3 to stop an inbound enemy missile launched by Houthi militants from Yemen, making the first time all three layers of Israel's aerial defense were working simultaneously.

"All of these provide protection in every layer of aerial defense and enable optimal protection of the Israeli home front," the IDF said in a statement at the time.

C-Dome

C-Dome
A missile is launched from the Sa'ar 6-class corvette during live-fire tests of the naval version of its Iron Dome missile-defense system called "C-Dome."      Israeli Ministry of Defense/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Israel's air defense system isn't just limited to land. The country also has a naval version of its Iron Dome system, mounting it aboard Israeli missile boats.

The naval version of the aerial defense system, known as C-Dome, is deployed aboard Sa'ar 6-class corvettes, four German-made warships ordered for Israel's navy.

In addition to the C-Dome, Sa'ar 6 vessels are also equipped with a 76mm Oto Melara Super Rapid main gun that's effective against close aerial threats.

Israeli missile boats

Israeli missile boats
A missile is launched from the Sa'ar 6-class corvette during the series of live-fire tests of the naval version of its Iron Dome missile defense system.      AnadoluIsraeli Ministry of Defence/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

After two years of development, Israel's military announced Monday that the seaborne defense system was used for the first time to intercept a "suspicious aerial target" that entered Israeli airspace near the city of Eilat, which has been frequently targeted by Houthis in Yemen in support of Hamas.

"Overnight, for the first time ever, an IDF Sa'ar 6-class corvette missile ship successfully intercepted a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) that had approached from the east and had crossed into the area of the Gulf of Eilat," the IDF said.

The Israeli naval fleet also includes 11 other warships in addition to the four Sa'ar 6-class corvettes, as well as five Dolphin-class submarines.

SPYDER

SPYDER
SPYDER, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems' surface-to-air missile system, is on display as F-16 fighter jets of the Singapore Air Force perform at the Singapore Airshow.      AP Photo/Joseph Nair

To further bolster its air defenses, Israel is also looking at a new "all-in-one" surface-to-air missile system called SPYDER, manufactured by Israeli defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

Israel, in collaboration with Rafael, is testing a new configuration for the weapons system, taking the missile launcher, radar, command and control system, and technology for surveillance and target acquisition and fitting it to an eight-wheel drive vehicle.

"Developed to address the critical operational needs of the modern battlefield, the SPYDER AiO provides an agile, autonomous, air defense asset, capable of rapid deployment within minutes, in challenging terrains, and with short reaction times," according to a fact sheet from Rafael.

"All-in-one" missile system

"All-in-one" missile system
SPYDER surface-to-air missiles on a static display are seen as an F-16 jet fires flares during the Singapore Air Show.      Joseph Nair/AP

Designed to carry up to eight canisterised missiles, including I-Derby SR, I-Derby ER, and Python-5 SR, it can engage up to four targets at a time, with a maximum range of up to 24.8 miles and an altitude of up to 7.4 miles, according to the fact sheet.

In January, Israel's defense ministry announced a successful test run of the new weapons system configuration, which is capable of intercepting drones, aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles, and precision-guided munitions.

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