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Monday, June 04, 2007

Bring on R2D2 (and throw out the bums!)

The big news today is the announcement that the Israeli Defense Ministry has decided to take a pass on one of the only fully deployed/fielded solutions available today against the ongoing kassam/ketyusha threat faced by Israel in the south and north.  Instead they have decided in favor of an unproven solution being developed by the Israeli company Raphael that will only be availible in 2011!

It boggles the mind!

There has been a proven close-in anti-missile system called Vulcan Phalanx (naval)/C-RAM(land), available for decades that Israel has studiously ignored (OK, they put it on some of their ships, but then they forget to turn it on during warfare. 

Because of the white-domed radar housing on top of the C-Ram and Phalanx systems, they have been nicknamed R2D2 by more than a few observers.

Here's a view of the naval version*:


And one of the land-based C-RAM version*:


The system works like this:  You switch it on (note to Israel navy).  When the on-board radar detects an incoming object that falls within a preset series of parameters (bearing, closing speed etc.) and determines it to be a threat, it opens up with its 20mm cannon (actually five cannons that rotate like an old-fashioned Gatling gun to increase speed of fire and reduce the overheating of the barrels) and fires a stream of extremely dense high-explosive projectiles at the target in almost unimaginable rapid fire.  It tracks not only the incoming target but also its own projectiles so that it can constantly correct its fire towards the center of the target's mass.  It will not cease fire while there is still even a tiny portion of the target continuing to close on a threatening bearing.

I have seen the naval version of this thing used many times in exercises out at sea.  It is truly awesome to observe... and quite effective.  It fires so rapidly (between 3000-4500 rounds per minute)that the human ear can hardly discern a break between the individual projectiles being fired.  It sounds more like a buzz saw than a machine gun.  It has a success rate of about 70-80%.  Oh, and need I point out that firing bullets at incoming rockets is a hellovalot cheaper than firing rockets at them (as will be the case with Raphael's system).

For those not up on military hardware, here is a little analysis on the potential problems that Israel had to consider when making their decision (don't thank me... I'm a giver):

Problem:  The time-line between identifying a military threat and fielding a proven defense against it is often so long (years!) that by the time you have a proven solution, the threat has either gone away or has morphed into something that the solution can no longer address.

Israel's case: The threats currently being faced by Israel are fairly static having been limited by our enemies' budgetary, technological and logistical constraints to an assortment of rocket/missile threats that fall well within the capabilities of the C-RAM system to address.  In fact, the C-RAM is capable of intercepting far more sophisticated guided missiles that are not yet widely available to our enemies.

Problem:  It has a proven record of 'only' 70-80%.  What about the other 20-30% of missiles?

Israel's Case:  No system currently fielded has a 100% success rate.  In fact, no system that is even in development has anything close to a 70% success rate.  Given that Israel is about to throw money away invest on the low-tech 'solution' of adding concrete reinforcement to all the roofs in Sderot, I think intercepting 70-80% of the incoming rockets would be a welcome step.

Problem:  The C-RAM system can only defend a few hundred square meters which would mean having to purchase quite a few of the units at about $15 million a pop.

Israel's Case:  Given that Sderot (and the northern communities) are not very big, a small array of several C-RAM systems should be able to defend each community against incoming rockets.  Remember, the majority of missiles and rockets are headed into open areas that don't require defending.  Also, as large as $15 million may sound to those of us who work for a living, in terms of military spending it is minuscule.  Not only that, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of developing a new system (such as the home-grown Raphael defense system that has not even been proven to work).

Problem:  What about the projectiles that miss the incoming rockets?  Aren't they going to fall on Gaza's civilian population? And aren't these bullets made of depleted Uranium or some other hazardous material???

Israel's Case:  Even the naval version has stopped using depleted Uranium rounds in favor of Tungsten.  However, the land-based system employs an explosive round that self-destructs if it doesn't hit the target.  This has been measured at 95-99% success.  Given the Palestinian propensity for firing machine guns into the air when they are a) happy; b) sad; and c) angry (i.e. pretty much all the time), any complaints about hunks of metal falling back to earth from the sky would be a tad disingenuous.

Problem:  Our Defense Minister and his advisers seem to have their collective heads up their a$$es.  Or barring that, they seem to be giving priority to lining the pockets of the Israeli defense industry over the immediate need to protect Israeli citizens.

Israel's Case:  Barring a new electoral process and a constitution, this is not likely to change any time soon.  Given that the Israeli population was powerless to remove the leadership directly responsible for the failures of the 2nd Lebanon war (and for Oslo, for that matter)from government and from public life, I doubt that a public uproar over this latest failure to make a rational decision about a proven defense system will have any affect.  Also, because of backlog of pending indictments against the current Prime Minister it may be some time before anyone notices close personal relationship between Olmert and Raphael's Yedidya Ya'ari (who Olmert tried to have placed on the Winograd Commission). ;-)

But we can try.



Posted by David Bogner on June 4, 2007 | Permalink


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The thing is, I have to assume that the military looked at this solution and discarded it as useless. While Peretz made many of the final decisions regarding the defense system development, he was following analyses by the military... one that has supposedly been working on the Qassam problem for years. One must assume that they have a better understanding of the tactical environment in and around Sderot and had concluded that the C-RAM systems would not be effective at their stated purpose.

Also, you seem to denigrate the Palestinian ability to improve their weapons. True, the genesis and improvement of Qassams has been a slow process, but it's only a matter of time before they have more sophisticated missiles - either through indigenous development or smuggling across the Egyptian border. Presumably the C-RAM systems they considered would not be effective at countering this threat. (I'd also imagine that they are considering using the RAFAEL system - or some modification thereof - in the north or other areas that face more sophisticated threats over larger regions.) For that matter, it's easy enough to protect Sderot with a handful of the systems... but what about area kibbutzim? Ashkelon?

Now, I'm not an expert on this weapons system or on the tradeoffs considered when choosing the Iron dome doohickey over the C-RAM stuff. But I feel like the military - and not Peretz or Olmert or even Halutz - must have considered this option and rejected it for good reason.

*shrugs* It could just be corruption, I guess (someone in RAFAEL paid someone to get the contract) but on such a high-profile deal, I feel that would be unlikely.

Posted by: matlabfreak | Jun 4, 2007 12:06:41 PM

matlabfreak...You used the phrases: "I have to assume ... one that has supposedly ... One must assume that ... it's only a matter of time ... Presumably ... I'd also imagine that ... I feel like the ... It could just be..." so often as to render your comment virtually devoid of a conclusion. All of those assumptions and feelings you mentioned are not borne out by the past actions of the Israeli procurement decision makers or the actions /capabilities of our enemies. You are one of my more astute and well-read commenters, so you'll forgive me if I hold you to a higher standard. As I mentioned, this system is not only widely fielded, but it is designed to meet threats far and above what our enemies currently have.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 4, 2007 12:20:50 PM

As mind-boggling as it may be, when I learned of this brilliant decision, I wasn't very surprised, given the government's history of making similarly brilliant decisions.

It is indeed sad when even protest seems futile.

Posted by: tnspr569 | Jun 4, 2007 1:05:59 PM

I wonder if this has anything to do with the American refusal to buy the Trophy system. Is it possible that this less a matter of favoritism than of retaliation? (Not that it makes it any better; this is cutting off one's nose to spite his face.)

Posted by: soccerdad | Jun 4, 2007 5:05:17 PM

Occam's Razor: our Ship of State is being captained by idiots. But we already knew that, didn't we?

Posted by: aliyah06 | Jun 4, 2007 5:19:39 PM

I'll second David's comments. The naval version (CIWS, or Close In Weapons System, pronounced See-Whiz) has been around for several decades, is a proven performer and is designed to deal with threats far greater than those posed by the Kassams. CIWS/C-RAM is already capable of engaging incoming artillery and mortar rounds and is being used for that purpose right now to defend the Green Zone in Baghdad. It works. It's cheap (by military standards). And the IDF already has the personnel to operate and main it because the IDF is a CIWS user. C-RAM could all but eliminate the Kassam threat.

To add to what David said about the 20MM rounds used by C-RAM. C-RAM uses an exploding round that detonates if it misses its target. The fragments from those rounds flutter to the ground, similar to how leaves fall from a tree. That prevents the shrapnel from being a threat to people on the ground. This is why C-RAM can be used in downtown Baghdad without carving up the surrounding area.

Too bad CIWS can't intercept torpedoes. That's the kind of defense surface ships really need. :)

Posted by: K Newman | Jun 4, 2007 7:29:21 PM

David, you have some experience with the Phalanx chain gun, don't you? Do you know the effective range? About 4000m, isn't it?

BTW, as to fragments falling on Palestinians -- hey, the gun shoots in the direction the rocket comes from. You don't want tungsten rain, don't let your neighborhood be used as a launch site.

Posted by: antares | Jun 4, 2007 8:07:12 PM

Sorry, David. I did want to comment on your post but as soon as I saw the first picture, my vision clouded over red, the bile hit my throat and I couldn't read any further. I know you understand.

Posted by: jennifer | Jun 5, 2007 8:44:29 AM

*scratches head* Your criticisms are valid, David, in that I'm working on scant information. Other than the JPost article I saw a day ago, I've seen next to no information on the IDF's decision not to deploy these in Sderot.

I simply feel there must be a good reason for this not coming up before. Every previous article I've seen on dealing with the Qassam threat - including quite a number from JPost - haven't even mentioned this system as a possibility. Furthermore, even though political decisions influence military procurement (and certainly, idiots in the Cabinet have time and time again screwed over the security of Israeli citizens), this type of system didn't even really make it into the running for a short list.

I'm not familiar enough with ballistics or this particular type of weapon to suggest a reason why this would be the case, but there has to be a reason. Hell, I doubt Peretz even knew such a system existed until yesterday. It seems from what I've seen that the suggestion never got out of MAFAT.

*shrugs* That being said, my (relatively cursory) search for more information on the decision and technical/military/political reasons why C-RAMs would not be appropriate for countering the Qassam threat has turned up nothing. No indignant calls to use the C-RAM by Sderot residents or IDF officers, no insinuations that RAFAEL pressured the military into ignoring this solution in favor of their system... there weren't even any editorials talking about the sheer idiocy of spending years and hundreds of millions of shekalim to fortify homes in Sderot when a reasonable solution that would protect more than just homes was available for less money.

Nothing. I doubt it's a conspiracy of silence... instead, I think the JPost is somehow misunderstanding its effectiveness in this particular tactical environment... or there's some deeper game being played here that neither of us is privy to.

That being said, your criticisms of my reasoning based on scant data are valid.

Posted by: matlabfreak | Jun 5, 2007 9:40:58 AM

Hi David AKA Trep,

We're not the first two that have brought up this relatively simple solution (...or at least contribution - 70% - 80% sure beats 0%) towards solving the problem of errant AKA terrorist rocketfire.

Obviously, expensive anti-rocket missiles aren't the answer, they can simply afford to toss more rockets than the existing supply of interceptors...

And the best solution of decisively dealing with the launchers themselves will never happen until Israel gets much better leadership... I'm not holding my breath.

When I asked this question previously to a US-based Israeli ambassadorial staff member, I was previously told that Israel couldn't afford to purchase enough CIWS systems or that rockets could be fired on high enough trajectories as to make the CIWS (sea-whiz) system ineffective. That never made sense to me since you could simply move them around on mobile platforms, which is essentially what the M-163 VADS "Vulcan" air defence APC is... Against targets the size of rockets, they should be effective at least 2,000 to 4,000 feet vertically, which would be plenty for rockets from the border areas of Gaza and Lebanon from where they are typically fired. Israel already has a number of M-163s... Huh? Upgrading the radar of a M-163 to CIWS capability is certainly more than possible...

I really wish that Israel would stop treating the symptoms of the disease and start dealing witht he disease itself, which reminds me of those famous "Fiddler On The Roof" lines...

Well, enough of my ramble...

Suffice to say, I sympathize and commisrate with you, David, and this post!


Posted by: Maksim-Smelchak | Jun 5, 2007 6:43:13 PM

At which point I once again paraphrase that famous New York Daily News headline from the '70's:


Of course, the comparison is not entirely fair. Gerald Ford never literally told New York to drop dead.

Posted by: psachya | Jun 6, 2007 9:15:59 PM

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