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Missile Defense: The Next Generation

Israel’s Iron Dome was impressive, but the threat it helped defeat was relatively unsophisticated. Engineers are now hard at work at the next big thing in missile defense designed specifically to counter higher-tech threats:

Unlike the homemade, rudimentary rockets used by Hamas, thousands of sophisticated missiles with greater ranges and payloads are being stockpiled in Lebanon by Hezbollah, another militant group. Israel’s leaders, who consider these weapons and longer-range missiles from Iran potential threats, have turned to engineers from Waltham-based Raytheon Co. to help develop the next-generation interceptor missile.


The technology “is designed to defeat a variety of short-range ballistic missiles, large caliber rockets and cruise missiles,” according to Raytheon.

One major difference, according to experts, is that the new interceptor missile should be able to be redirected in mid-flight, to account for changes in the trajectory of the incoming weapon. Under the Iron Dome system, once the operator fires the interceptor missile, its course cannot be modified.

The key distinction is between a rocket and a missile. Hamas’ was lobbing unguided rockets at Israel. Hezbollah may have guided missiles in its arsenal. Iron Dome could tell seconds after launch whether a Hamas rocket would land in a populated area, and could therefore calculate its entire flight path with a reasonable amount of certainty. Guided missiles are much harder to hit as their trajectory can change mid-flight.

The article reports that a test of the new Raytheon system is set to happen in Israel’s Negev desert in the coming days. Via Meadia will be on the lookout for any reports. In war, the offense has had a technological edge ever since tanks blasted through the trenches toward the end of World War One. The development of missiles made the offensive even more dominant; there was essentially no defense against incoming ICBMs.

Today the attacker still has an edge, but the rapid development of IT suggests that smarter, more powerful defensive systems can stop at least some meaningful percentage of incoming missiles. Research in this field has come a long way since the sophisticated and smart analysts laughed themselves sick at Ronald Reagan’s call for what critics mocked as a “Star Wars” defensive system, but it increasingly looks as if such systems can provide a measure of protection against rogue states and marginal powers.

American financial support for Israeli efforts to develop missile defense systems should not be seen simply as aid to an ally. If Americans and Israelis working together come up with systems that work against increasingly sophisticated threats, American security will be substantially enhanced. The prospect of defensive systems that could protect North Korea’s neighbors is also appealing and would help stabilize a volatile region of the world.

Let’s hope those Negev tests go well.

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