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US Army’s Iron Dome put through first live-fire trial at White Sands range

US Army Iron Dome live-firing trials
Photo: Israel defense ministry

The US Army’s new Iron Dome missile defense system has completed its first live-fire test at the White Sands New Mexico (WSMR) test range.

The trial marked the first time US soldiers intercepted live targets with the Israeli-developed air defense system which was designed to counter very short-range rockets, artillery and mortar threats.

Delivered to the US Army by the Israeli Missile Defense Organization in 2020, Iron Dome has been undergoing a series of acceptance tests and operator training over the past months.

The 3-43 Air Defense Artillery (ADA) Battalion (BN), a subordinate unit assigned to the 11th ADA Brigade (BDE) in Fort Bliss, TX is the first unit to undergo new equipment training, and execute live fire tests with the newly acquired interim cruise missile defense system. Soldiers from 3-43 ADA successfully engaged eight cruise missile surrogate targets as part of a coordinated performance test and live fire event.

The US Army bought two missile defense batteries under a $300 million contract from August 2019. The testing of each system will end with a live-fire engagement to shoot down a surrogate cruise missile target, after which the Iron Dome batteries will officially stand up at Fort Bliss, Texas. They are expected to be available for operational deployment by September 2021 and December 2021, respectively.

Part of the testing will also include an evaluation of how the Iron Dome can be integrated into the army’s Integrated Battle Command System. IBCS will provide the army with an integrated command-and-control system, capable of blending current and future air and missile defense sensors and weapon systems under a unified network.

Delivered by Israeli defense contractor Rafael, the Iron Dome systems were mated to Oshkosh military trucks before being shipped to the US. Rafael will also be working with Raytheon on the establishment of an Iron Dome production facility in the United States. The new facility will produce both the Iron Dome weapon system, which consists of the Tamir interceptor and launcher, and the SkyHunter missile, a US derivative of Tamir. Both Tamir and SkyHunter intercept incoming cruise missiles, unmanned aerial systems and short-range targets such as rockets, artillery, mortars and other aerial threats.

The US Army plans to field both Iron Dome batteries as an interim cruise missile defense solution, while continuing to acquire an enduring Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC) Increment 2 (Inc2) system. Future variants of the IFPC program include technology insertions such as directed energy, which will provide a critical protection capability against sub-sonic cruise missiles, groups 2 &3 unmanned aircraft systems, and rockets, artillery and mortars threats.