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How Israel's Iron Dome detects and intercepts incoming rockets

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Some of the ways in which Hamas initially attacked Israel on Saturday - that is, taking down communications towers with improvised explosives, paragliding over the border and gunning down civilians - subverted one of Israel's strongest defenses, its Iron Dome.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

First deployed in 2011, the Iron Dome is a network of radar detectors and missile launchers that work together to intercept incoming rockets.

TOM KARAKO: Iron Dome is just one piece of a multi-layered set of systems that the Israelis have. But the Iron Dome in particular is kind of the poster child.

KELLY: That's Tom Karako. He directs the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Now, there are three parts that make the Iron Dome work.

CHANG: First, there's the radar. When a rocket is launched into Israel, the system detects it and collects data on its flight path.

KELLY: Next, that information is sent to a computer that calculates where that rocket is going.

KARAKO: For rockets and artillery, for ballistic missiles it's fairly predictable. So if you see something traveling on a particular arc, you kind of know where it's going to be going on the rest of its trajectory. You also know where it's going to end up.

KELLY: Karako says if the system calculates that the rocket is going to land in a populated area, it activates the last piece of the system, the launcher.

KARAKO: When it is told to fire by this somewhat automated system, the first thing that you would see is a Tamir missile coming at it with a good bit of flame and noise and then, you know, traveling off toward the trajectory of the threat, and then maneuvering and positioning itself to come at the threat from just the right angle and then detonate to destroy it.

CHANG: Now, the system is expensive. Each missile the system launches costs around $40,000, and the U.S. has poured billions of dollars into its development. But it's also highly effective.

KELLY: Israeli officials say the Iron Dome has been 90- to 97% effective in recent years and that it has helped save lives against Hamas rockets that have been fired since Saturday's offensive started. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kai McNamee
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.