China’s Missile Volume Edge Threatened by Joint US-Israeli Iron Dome Advances

January 17, 2020 Updated: January 17, 2020
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News Analysis

China’s military advantage as fielding the “most active” missile program in the world is threatened by joint U.S.-Israeli advances in the Iron Dome missile interceptor.

Israel’s Defense Ministry announced on Jan. 12 that after a decade of joint funding, development and production with the United States, the latest testing effective rate for Iron Dome anti-missile interceptions is 100 percent.

The Rand Corporation think tank shocked military analysts in 2017 when its annual U.S.-China Military Scorecard rated China as having gained the “advantage” over America in aerial attacks against Taiwan and the U.S. fleet. The incoming Trump administration responded by increasing cooperation with Israel to fund “layered” anti-missile defenses.

National Interest reported in early December 2019 that several of its sources alleged: “China’s iron-fisted leader, Xi Jinping, is ‘losing patience’ and could order the invasion of Taiwan in the early 2020s. The world’s most dangerous flashpoint might witness an overwhelming amphibious blitz, perhaps before July 2021 to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”

The Chinese regime has prepared for such a momentous ploy by focusing its military spending on ballistic missiles, cyber warfare capabilities, and counter-space weapons. National Interest warned that given “China’s skill in the dark arts of strategic deception,” Taiwan and the United States would only have four weeks of advanced warning of a Chinese invasion.

But given the distance of 100 miles from China to Taiwan and an attack scenario that might include anti-satellite weapons blinding U.S. early warning systems, massive missile attacks against the U.S. Navy in Japan ports and DF-26 missiles employed in concert with Chinese Navy ships and aircraft to keep the American aircraft carriers at bay, there would only be about 4 minutes to respond to China’s first-strike launches.

China held its largest military parade on Oct.1 that featured mobile DF-31AG and DF-26 conventional/nuclear armed missiles. But it also showcased 6 previously unseen area dominance missile systems that included 3 new cruise missiles (YJ-12B, YJ-18, and CJ-100), 2 ballistic missiles (JL-2 and DF-41), and a hypersonic glide vehicle (DF-17).

In 2008, the United States and Israel began joint funding, development and production to field the Arrow-3 hypersonic anti-ballistic missile with a goal of 99 percent interception effectiveness. The program morphed after 2013 into the “Iron Dome,” which has had a record of over 90 percent effectiveness in shooting down over 2,400 projectiles.

The $190 billion U.S. Defense Budget for 2020 pivoted from focusing on fighting terrorists to confronting China and Russia as high-tech “strategic competitors.”

Israel has already fielded 10 Iron Dome batteries to protect its citizens and infrastructure. Each battery includes 3 to 4 stationary launchers that can fire 20 Tamir missiles at incoming threats launched from ranges of up to 60 miles. The interceptors feature electro-optical sensors, steering fins and proximity-fuse blast warheads. The Tamir’s missile components are procured through Raytheon’s U.S. supply chain.

The United States already fields many battalions of Patriot missiles to intercept large cruise missiles. But the unit cost of Patriots run about $2-3 million each, because the system is optimized to very ballistic missiles operating at higher altitudes.

The 2020 U.S. Defense budget plans to buy a variant of the Iron Dome manufactured from Raytheon called SkyHunter that will feature a slightly longer missile interceptor. The cost per launch for the new interceptor will only be about $80,000 and is designed to integrate with the existing Army’s Sentinel and Marines’ G/ATOR field radar systems.

To add a further layer of missile defense at shorter ranges, the United States and Israel are jointly working on new generations of air, land and sea-based high-energy laser cannons. The estimated cost would only be about $3.50 per interception. Laser cannons could theoretically offer unlimited defense “shots,” but laser doesn’t work as well in bad weather and for targets over the horizon.