A view of the Iron Dome air-defense system. Credit: Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
by Yaakov Lappin
(JNS) — The United States’ Raytheon Missiles and Defense company, and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems made an unusual announcement in August, stating that they had signed a joint venture to produce Iron Dome weapons systems on American soil.
The new partnership anticipates finalizing a site location, either in Arkansas or Alabama, before the end of the year.
“This will be the first Iron Dome all-up-round facility outside of Israel, and it will help the U.S. Department of Defense and allies across the globe obtain the system for defense of their service members and critical infrastructure,” said Raytheon’s Sam Deneke, vice president of Land Warfare and Air Defense business execution.
The new facility will produce the Iron Dome weapon system, which consists of the Tamir interceptor and launcher, and the Sky Hunter missile, which is a U.S. derivative of Tamir. Both Tamir and Sky Hunter intercept incoming cruise missiles, unmanned aerial systems and short-range targets such as rockets, artillery, mortars and other aerial threats.
Iron Dome is the world’s most widely used air-defense system, with more than 2,500 operational intercepts over Israeli cities since 2011 and a success rate exceeding 90 percent.
‘The correct strategic choice’
Brig. Gen. (res.) Pini Yungman, executive vice president for Air and Missile Defense at Rafael, told JNS that his company’s relationship with Raytheon goes back to 2006, when Rafael won a tender for another breakthrough air-defense system: David’s Sling.
A joint Israeli-American program, the David’s Sling tender was run by the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency and by Israel’s Missile Defense Organization. Rafael had to find an American partner for the development and production of David’s Sling, recalled Yungman.
“We chose Raytheon — the central reason being that they seemed most fitting in terms of their capabilities for developing such far-reaching technology, which did not exist in other places in the world. Secondly and no less important, their profile is very similar to ours. While they are firm competitors of ours, we decided to cooperate with our competitors because they have capabilities that line up well with our own technological capabilities,” he stated.
The two companies signed a teaming agreement — a decision that Yungman said proved itself as “the correct strategic choice” since it has held up so well over the past 14 years.
Much of David’s Sling and other phases of Iron Dome were developed at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.
In 2014, as part of the U.S. military fund assistance package, Rafael was called upon by the U.S. government to allocate 50 percent of its production spending for Iron Dome in American industries.
Rafael began searching for an integrator that can take the complex mission of getting together thousands of components that make up Iron Dome and enabling Rafael to complete the final integration.
“We convinced the MDA and IMDO that Raytheon, with whom we had been working with by then for more than eight years, should be the American contractor that focuses all of Iron Dome production in the U.S.,” he said.
Today, more than 70 percent of Iron Dome’s components are made in the United States. They were sent to Israel, where Rafael integrated them to create the system’s interceptor for the Israel Defense Forces.
But then, Yungman said, Rafael suggested to the U.S. military, to senators and to congress members that American defense needs can also be well served by Iron Dome. With U.S. forces deployed in volatile combat zones in the Middle East and Afghanistan, facing regular rocket, mortar and missile attack, Iron Dome could offer them immediate protection.
Yungman led an initiative in which Rafael flew an Iron Dome battery to the United States with Raytheon’s cooperation, and conducted three trials between 2017 and 2019 — two for the U.S. Army and one for the Marines.
“We purchased the battery so that we could transport it to the U.S.,” he said. The U.S. Army is due to receive two batteries as part of its initial evaluation phase.
Iron Dome is currently the interim system. A decision on the enduring solution is expected in 2021.
In 2016, Yungman suggested that Rafael and Raytheon jointly produce the systems in a factory, meaning that a single center in America would make the interceptors, some of which would stay there and the remainder to go to Israel.
“It took around two years to start producing the joint venture for the full integration of interceptors,” he said. Raytheon is due to decide on the final location of the factory. The offices of the venture will be headquartered in Washington.
Yungman noted that this level of intimate cooperation between Israeli and American defense firms is highly unique. Teams sat in labs together jointly planning the production and integration stages to create the missile interceptors, overcoming technological, manufacturing, management and economic challenges.
“This is a bold connection between the companies, which is marked by a passion for working together, because we have to have synergy,” he said. “We are continuing onwards. We see further possibilities of cooperation with Raytheon. Where they are strong, they take the lead, and where we are strong, we do.”