Delhi eye on Israel 'Dome'

New Delhi, Nov. 16: As Israeli missiles shot down two rockets aimed at the city of Ashdod this afternoon, an officer in the defence establishment in New Delhi totted up the scores.

India is closely watching missile defences deployed by Israel in its "Operation Pillar of Defence", the latest flare-up between the Hamas and Israel across the Gaza Strip.

These are systems that the Indian military is evaluating. Chiefly, the Indian military is focusing on the performance of a system called "Iron Dome" that is the defence mechanism for a clutch of cities and settlements in Israel ' including the southern suburbs of Tel Aviv ' that are within range of the rockets fired from Gaza.

Southern Israel this week has been the true test for Iron Dome ' a system touted by Israeli military officials as a "game changer". Iron Dome first became operational last year and intercepts rockets fired from short distances of up to 80km with up to 80 per cent effectiveness.

The system, largely funded by the US and developed by the Israeli company Rafael, works by using a radar detection and tracking system to determine whether rockets will fall in areas needing protection. It then fires interception missiles that destroy the warheads and engines of incoming rockets.

The Jerusalem Post newspaper reported today of 83 missiles fired from the Gaza Strip in the hours after the killing of a Hamas commander, a majority were neutralised by a missile shield.

In 2009, the Indian Air Force was Israel's first foreign customer for the Spyder missile defence system ' a Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile (QR-SAM) ' that is replacing vintage Soviet-origin OSA-AK system. The value of the contract was not disclosed.

India's requirement of missile defence systems are huge and Israel has been a steady supplier. It supplied the Barak I that the Indian Navy has installed or is installing on almost all its frontline ships. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) also has a project with Israel to develop the Barak NG (next generation) that will be deployed on ships that the Indian Navy has on order.

An estimate of India's missile defence requirements is difficult to make because of the secrecy involved. The army and the air force's missile defence systems largely made up of outdated Pechora and OSA-AK systems procured from the Soviets.

In March this year, through a letter that was leaked, the then chief of army staff, Gen. V.K. Singh, had told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that missile defence systems were 97 per cent obsolete and that they could not protect high value targets.

India's own short-range missile defence programmes ' the Akash and the Trishul ' have not been able to meet the requirements of the armed forces.

Since 2010, Rafael Advanced Systems is known to have offered two missile defence projects ' the "Iron Dome" and another called "David's Sling" to the Indian armed forces.

A developer of Iron Dome at Rafael's headquarters said that one of the problems with the system was its high cost.

Each time an Iron Dome missile is fired it costs about $70,000 (Rs 9.3 lakh). Israeli police reported that in the first few hours of Israel's current operation in Gaza, Iron Dome shot down 18 rockets that would have hit civilian areas.

"The problem with Iron Dome is that it is not a solution. It is not the final answer but rather an assistance to the communities under fire," the Rafael developer said.