U.S. Pledges More Money for Iron Dome - but IDF Lacks Trained Personnel

The IDF had planned for reservists to operate the batteries, but this could cause further delay as training reservists involves additional expenses.

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The United States this week reiterated its promise to grant Israel with an extra $429 million to provide missiles and batteries for Iron Dome, boosting the defense system’s capability to defend civilians from rocket attacks - but the Israel Defense Forces doesn't have enough personnel to man the new deployments.

The announcement came after Israel and the U.S. solved the main disagreements they had over selling the system, designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells, to other countries. The remaining obstacle is the batteries’ production pace, which appears to be faster than the IDF can train personnel to operate them.

The U.S. conditioned the additional aid, which is not part of annual American defense aid, on manufacturing parts of the battery missiles in U.S. plants. In December 2013, Israel accepted this demand. The agreement was reached at the request of leading members of Congress, who conditioned their support for approving the aid on creating jobs for American workers. According to the agreement, up to 20 percent of the missiles will be produced in the U.S. in the first year, reaching no more than 55 percent in coming years.

But Israel rejected the American demand to share ownership of the technological development (the system was initially developed entirely by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems) and give the Americans a full veto on future deals to export Iron Dome to other states. Instead, Israel promised to update the Americans on future deals.

The Israeli Air Force is currently deploying a seventh Iron Dome battery. The new American aid will finance the production of additional batteries and a large number of interception missiles. Israel plans to produce at least 10 batteries — the minimal number, in the IDF’s estimation — to enable it to provide basic defense to all parts of the country in case of a short and medium-range rocket attack. Some defense officials believe Israel needs more batteries.

The Air Force was supposed to finish deploying the eighth battery by the end of the year. But despite the high demand among IDF recruits to be assigned to the batteries, the IDF has not trained enough personnel to operate them. This means the deployment of the eighth battery could be delayed by a few months, to early next year. The IDF had planned for reservists to operate the batteries, but this could cause further delay as training reservists involves additional expenses.

Meanwhile, Rafael has accelerated the development of Magic Wand, an air defense system designed to intercept medium and long-range rockets and cruise missiles. The system is being developed jointly with the American defense contractor Raytheon. Israel is planning to have two operational batteries, which are supposed to provide defense to the entire country.

A number of recent technological breakthroughs could speed up the system’s development and allow the IDF to use it by the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015. But here too delays may occur. Part of the funding for the project is supposed to come from the defense budget. The frequent hold-ups in approving the IDF’s multiyear plan could hinder the set up of the batteries. Defense officials hope to overcome these obstacles in the near future.

In a news conference last week, American Missile Defense Agency officials outlined the agency’s budget and plans for 2015. A senior official said the budget accounts for the agency’s long-term commitment to support the Israeli development of Magic Wand, alongside Iron Dome and its interception missiles.

The official said that in 2015, the agency will continue to work with its Israeli counterpart, the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure, on plans for active defense. These include producing more Iron Dome batteries and interceptors and continuing to develop the Magic Wand system.

Barack Obama, center-right, escorted by Benjamin Netanyahu, views an Iron Dome battery, March 20, 2013.Credit: AFP

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