US to buy Israeli missile defenses in humiliating admission about failure of US systems

Iron DomeIsraeli soldiers stand in front of the launcher of an Iron Dome missile interceptor battery in the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon.Reuters

  • The US Army on Wednesday announced that it would buy an Israeli missile defense system to protect its soldiers in a de facto admission that existing US missile defenses just don't work.
  • Israel's Iron Dome system took a $429 million investment from the US in 2014, and since then has successfully intercepted more than 1,000 incoming projectiles.
  • The US's comparable Patriot missile defense system hasn't faced much opposition, but in the hands of US ally Saudi Arabia it has failed spectacularly against modest threats.
  • The Army says the Iron Dome buy is only a stopgap and they'll keep looking at other options, but that's just a nice way of saying it's passed over the Patriot.

The US Army on Wednesday announced that it would buy an Israeli missile defense system to protect its soldiers in a de facto admission that existing US missile defenses just don't work.

"The U.S. Army has announced its intent to procure a limited number of Iron Dome weapon systems to fill its short-term need for an interim Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC)," a US Army statement sent to Business Insider read.

Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, indigenously designed with a $429 million US investment backing it, represents the world's only example of working missile defense.

While the US, Russia, and China work on high-end missile systems meant to shoot down stealth aircraft in ultra high-tech wars with electronic and cyber warfare raging along the sidelines, none of these country's systems actually block many missiles, rockets and mortars.

Read more: Trump just reimagined how the US will fight nuclear wars - but it's a losing battle with Russia

On the other hand, Israel's Iron Dome has shot down more than 1,200 projectiles since going operational in 2011. Constant and sporadic attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian-aligned forces in Syria have turned Israel into a hotbed of rocket and mortar activity, and the system just plain works.

Not only do the sensors and shooters track and hit targets reliably, the Iron Dome, unlike other systems, can tell if a projectile is going to miss a target, and thereby save a $100,000 interceptor fire.

While the system does not run entirely without error, US and Israeli officials consistently rate the dome as having a 90% success rate on the Gaza border, one of the most active places in the world for ballistic projectiles.

Read more: Israel blows hundreds of thousands firing Iron Dome missile at nothing in a bizarre, costly mistake

But the US already has missile defenses for its forces.

The 2019 Missile Defense Review says the US's Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile defense system has a "proven combat record," though US officials inflated its success rate during Operation Desert Storm.

The US, unlike Israel which is surrounded by enemies bent on its ultimate destruction, doesn't get many enemies firing ballistic missiles at its forces. Still, to protect its soldiers, the Army typically deploys Patriot defenses to its bases to protect against short-range missile attacks. In Iraq, the US Army also experimented with a Phalanx gun system that would rapid fire 20mm gun rounds at incoming rockets and mortars.

yemen missile saudi arabia houthi riyadhSaudi Arabia's missile defense system intercepts several missiles fired from rebel-Houthis.Screenshot via Twitter/Rosie Perper

But Saudi Arabia, a weaker US ally, has put its Patriot defenses to the test, and found them severely wanting either through user error or failings of the system itself.

Read more: Saudi Arabia's missile defenses look to have 'failed catastrophically' at trying to stop a large Houthi strike

In repeated missile strikes from Houthi rebels using relatively unsophisticated Iranian ballistic missiles, the Patriot missile defenses have failed, sometimes spectacularly.

Nobody wants the Patriot

raytheon patriot missile defenseMIM-104 Patriot Missile Launch DrillWikimedia Commons

Despite Saudi Arabia claiming a high success rate for the missile system, it proceeded to talk to Russia about obtaining advanced S-400 missile defenses after the Patriot failures. NATO allies like Turkey have also looked to augment their defenses with the Russian system, causing friction with the US and others.

Read more: The Saudis still haven't locked in the massive arms deals Trump touted, and they're still talking to Russia about its advanced S-400 air defense system

Over all, the US Army's statement announcing the Iron Dome purchase made it clear that this would just be a short-term buy while the US assesses its options.

"The Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed U.S. military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats... it should be noted that the U.S. Army will assess a variety of options for" the long term, the statement continued.

But the Army is well aware of its own Patriot system and any planned or possible updates.

By buying an Israel system with a great track record and overlooking a US system with a checkered past, the US may have finally admitted its shortcomings in missile defense.

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