Guess what? The Iron Dome doesn’t work!

Posted on August 18th, 2014 in War by Robert Miller

We have heard impressive reports about the efficiency of the Iron Dome, the interceptor defense system that Israel uses to blast Hamas rockets out of the sky so they don’t do their intended damage. Israel claims that 90% of the Hamas rockets are successfully destroyed with the Iron Dome interceptor system. The United States is providing most of the funding for this system. Recently the Senate Armed Services Committee suggested doubling the $175 million budget for the Iron Dome project, in view of its heavy use in this round of the never ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But does this system really work?

Theodore Postal, physicist and professor of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT claims that studies of rocket and interceptor contrails (the smoke trails that follow the rockets and interceptors) forces one to conclude that the success rate is probably no more than 5% and perhaps even less. Postal and his colleagues examined the system during the current crisis as well as the 2012 Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Based on his analysis of photographs and imagery of Hamas rocket and Iron Dome interactions, he concluded that the system remains fraught with problems coupled with marginal outcomes. Although his analysis of the July 2014 interceptor accuracy is still underway, it is unlikely that the system has been improved substantially from the 2012 conflict which he argues had an unequivocally high rate of failure. The Postal site has a slide show which provides additional insight into the problems facing the interceptors. Postal argues that the low incidence of Israeli deaths from Hamas rockets can be attributed to the civil warning system that effectively warns citizens in time for them to seek shelter, either in their own homes or within the vast array of public safety shelters. From the Postal Article: ["What performance characteristics make a rocket defense effective? To successfully intercept an artillery rocket of the type Hamas has been firing, an Iron Dome interceptor must destroy the warhead on the front end of the rocket. If the Iron Dome interceptor instead hits the back end of the target rocket, it will merely damage the expanded rocket motor tube, basically an empty pipe, and have essentially no effect on the outcome of the engagement. The pieces of the rocket will still fall in the defended area; the warhead will almost certainly go on to the ground and explode. Destroying an artillery rocket warhead is a considerably more demanding mission than damaging other parts of the targeted rocket—or, in the analogous situation of aircraft defense, successfully damaging an airplane, causing the failure of its mission. Analysis of photographs of contrails left by Iron Dome interceptor missiles can show whether or not an attempted rocket intercept could have been successful. Such analysis focuses on two connected facts: To have a realistic chance of destroying an artillery rocket's warhead, an Iron Dome interceptor must approach the rocket from the front—in fact, almost directly head-on. And for all practical purposes, an Iron Dome interceptor has no chance of destroying the warhead if the interceptor engages the rocket from the side or from the back." ]

Hamas interceptor rocket dynamics

Figure 1. A successful interceptor action requires the rocket and the interceptor to have a frontal position with one another and even then the chances of a success are low

Studies of the Hamas and interceptor contrails show that the majority of engagements are either from the side or with the interceptor trailing the rocket: neither of these approaches are likely to result in successful destruction of the rocket warhead. Figure 1 should help to understand what must happen if the interceptor is going to destroy the Hamas rocket warhead. To have a realistic chance of destroying the Hamas rocket, the interceptor must approach the rocket from the front. The Grad artillery rocket illustrated was first produced by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and is now readily available to Hamas. The blue dashed line represents the line of sight of the interceptor’s “laser fuse”. It represents a beam of light that reflects off the rocket. Through its control system the interceptor can determine when the rocket is passing; the interceptor warhead is positioned well behind the light beam; timing mechanisms allow the interceptor warhead to explode at an optimum position for destruction of the rocket warhead. This is why Postal argues that frontal positioning of the Iron Dome interceptor with the approaching rocket is the optimal spatial relationship and positions that deviate from a purely frontal approach have a dramatically lower chance of success. According to Postal, even the frontal positioning of the rocket and interceptor has a slim chance of success, just better than zero because of all the timing issues that come into play in order to get a successful engagement.

A successful Iron Dome interceptor bringing down a Hamas rocket

their Figure 2. A successful Iron Dome interceptor bringing down a Hamas rocket

Figure 2 shows what a successful interceptor destruction of a Hamas rocket looks like. In this example the Iron Dome interceptor and the Hamas rocket have a frontal approach with one another. You can see the explosion from the Iron Dome interceptor, while the asymmetry of the debris field indicates that there were two explosions in quick succession. The blast from the interceptor produces a forward momentum of debris. The approaching Hamas rocket also explodes with a smoke cloud on the left, while the contrail below probably indicates the path taken by a section of the rocket’s motor. This photograph was the only successful engagement Postal and his colleagues found during their very extensive searches of voluminous photographic and video evidence of Iron Dome interceptor rocket interactions in November 2012.

If the Iron Dome interceptor system has such a low rate of success, why are the Israelis and the Americans touting its effectiveness and lavishly funding it as if it was a well established system? The most obvious answer is that it gives a psychological boost to the Israeli citizens who believe they are benefiting from the system, while at the same time it provides Hamas with the idea that most of their rockets are being destroyed by a system far in advance to the relatively small rockets they are aiming at Israel. And, perhaps we should add that funding it from our budget gives additional largess to our armaments industry. The Hamas rockets only have a 10 to 2o lb explosive. If it hits you or the room you are staying in directly, it will probably kill you, but if it doesn’t make a direct hit you will probably survive and perhaps come away unscathed.

RFM

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William Pfaff on the Ukraine crisis

Posted on August 13th, 2014 in War by Robert Miller

Although we have unavoidably changed our focus from Ukraine to Gaza, the situation in Ukraine has only gotten worse and threatens, more so than Gaza, to become an international crisis, one that might lead to a serious state of war between people that should be at peace with one another. I urge you to read William Pfaff’s article on the Ukraine situation in which he briefly encapsulates the history, going back to the break-up of the Soviet Union and the promises made to Gorbachev by George H.W. Bush that NATO would not attempt to encircle Russia, a promise promptly broken by the Clinton administration. It is clear that we—the United States of America—caused this war, by effectively engineering a coup, deposing the democratically elected prime minister, temporarily replacing him with a right-wing zealot, all because we intend to use NATO to  encircle Russia, something that Putin will never accept. This is the fault of the Obama administration allowing the hawks and the neocons to dominate his foreign policy, at least in this instance. It seems almost too late to reverse this course as the protagonists become intrenched and resolute against finding another way out. In the meantime, the killing of innocents continues in Ukraine, an unreasonable state of shock and awe that could have been so easily avoided. If giving out grades for this incident, which could easily open into a wider conflict, I give the United States an F. I don’t give a grade to Putin because he acted in a predictable way as a Russian nationalist who will fight to save Russia as a player on the international stage. He succeeded, but the cost is very high; lives have been lost unnecessarily, victims of Real politics. The simple issue comes down to this: Russia will never allow encirclement by NATO, which for them is an odious Cold War tool, while at the same time the United States’ actions have been hell bent on establishing NATO right next door with Ukraine as the newest NATO member!

RFM

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Getting through the nuclear age

Posted on August 5th, 2014 in War by Robert Miller
Mushroom Cloud

Mushroom Cloud

When the Truman administration decided to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, it marked the end of one era and the beginning of another: the difference between the pre- and post-nuclear age includes mind-numbing revelations about how our military had planned various first strike contingencies that would have annihilated the planet.   Lt. General Leslie Groves, was the military commander in charge of the Manhattan project that developed the bomb and was given the responsibility of deciding how, where and when it should be used. His idea was that the bomb was going to be dropped on Hiroshima, not to end the war with Japan, but to serve as a warning to the Russians (many people forget that the Russians were our allies in WW II—in fact they won the war against Germany and they had entered the war against Japan to fulfill a promise that Stalin had made to FDR). At the time the atom bomb was developed, Leslie Groves convinced Truman that the Russians would never be capable of creating a similar device and the United States would have a never ending monopoly of nuclear technology. Nuclear scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer warned that the advantage the U.S. had in developing the bomb was temporary, like a cake of ice melting in the sun: four years later, in August 1949, the Russians exploded their first atom bomb and the arms race, that nuclear scientists, including Henry Wallace had warned us against went into full bloom. As a result, we developed a bomb culture that kept us in fear of a Russian surprise nuclear attack and likewise the Russians came to fear that we might launch a nuclear strike, meaning both sides were trigger happy and perhaps we are lucky so far to have escaped a nuclear holocaust. Of course the threat of such an attack is not over and could come from another country such as Pakistan, angry over our use of drones, or be detonated in one of our major cities by a group of terrorists. The world will not be safe until we eliminate these foolhardy weapons.

Noam Chomsky, writing in TomDispatch, has an excellent account of an encapsulated history of nuclear weapons and the stupidity of our political leadership, which has never tried to promote public safety when confronted with the options to limit nuclear proliferation. In fact our Presidential leadership has completely disregarded public safety in favor of nuclear threats which began right after we acquired nuclear weapons during the Korean war. Chomsky reminds us of the continued threats that nuclear weapons pose for the survival of humanity. A comment by General Lee Butler, former head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which controls nuclear devices and strategy in which he reflects on the disadvantages of having a nuclear arsenal [from Chomsky]: he  had come to realize that it was now his “burden to declare with all of the conviction I can muster that in my judgment they served us extremely ill.” And he asked, “By what authority do succeeding generations of leaders in the nuclear-weapons states usurp the power to dictate the odds of continued life on our planet? Most urgently, why does such breathtaking audacity persist at a moment when we should stand trembling in the face of our folly and united in our commitment to abolish its most deadly manifestations?” You have to take only a moment in thought to realize how astonishing it is that any government would think of using nuclear weapons, particularly once the “nuclear winter” concept came into the forefront of our understanding about the full implications of detonating such devices. We can all be assured that in the post-9/11 world, no one will be getting rid of their nuclear arsenals anytime soon and we continue to live a kind of perpetual state of ignorance about the realities of any nuclear confrontation. In my opinion, should a nuclear device explode in an American city (God forbid), it will probably be one stolen from our own nuclear arsenal.

RFM

 

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