Phalanx anyone?

(Ship mounted Phalanx artillery battery)

In light of the explosive situation between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, it’s surprising that this story, now a few weeks old, has hardly garnered the attention it deserves. Ha’aretz correspondent Reuven Pedatzur reports that the ‘Iron Dome’ missile defense system under development by Israel’s Rafael Advance Defense Systems is useless to protect Sderot and other Israeli towns in the western Negev adjacent to the Gaza Strip. The reason is simple, as Pedatzur points out, “The distance from the edge of Beit Hanun (in the Gaza Strip) to the outskirts of Sderot is 1,800 meters. Therefore, a rocket launched from Beit Hanun takes about nine seconds to hit Sderot. The developers of Iron Dome at Rafael Advance Defense Systems know that the preparations to simply launch the intercept missiles at their target take up to about 15 seconds (during which time the system locates the target, determines the flight path and calculates the intercept route). Obviously, then, the Qassam will slam into Sderot quite a number of seconds before the missile meant to intercept it is even launched.”

One needs not be a weapons expert to realize the incompetence behind the project. How could it be, with so many intelligent scientists and arms experts in Israel, nobody raised this rudimentary problem before the Israeli Defense Ministry decided to invest in the doomed project? Especially when there’s a much cheaper, more effective and readily available alternative found in the American made Phalanx artillery battery, developed by Raytheon to protect sitting duck warships from incoming missiles. The system has a radar (looks like R2D2) which tracks the trajectory of incoming projectiles and is then capable of firing 6,000 shells per minute at its target. And at least one of those shells usually scores a hit. The Phalanx also has a precedent of use over land, as seen in its deployment in the Green Zone in Iraq to protect U.S. forces from missiles and mortar barrages. I’m usually not one to pin my hopes on technological solutions, as though some new weapon system could finally put an end to the long-standing political conflict between Arabs and Israelis, but this could clearly help diffuse the situation.

Dr. Nathan Farber, a highly reputable ballistics expert believes that a mere five Phalanx artillery batteries, costing $1 million a piece (peanuts by the standards of Israel’s defense budget), would provide immediate relief to the residents of Sderot and other towns in the western Negev from daily Qassam barrages. Farber also writes off any environmental concerns as practically a non-issue, because the shells travel at such a high rate of speed, those which miss their target would end up somewhere over the Mediterranean before landing, and thus won’t pose a danger to residents of Israeli towns. Dr. Farber legitimately asks, “Why not deploy Phalanx batteries in the meanwhile (while Iron Dome is still under development), and protect the residents of Sderot? It will be cheaper, no less efficient, and above all provide immediate protection. If it’s good enough for the Americans in Iraq, why can’t it be good for us?” Pedatzur suggests that so-called “blue and white” economic motives were behind the decision to develop the homegrown Iron Dome system despite its obvious shortcomings in comparison to superior foreign-made alternatives. If true, it’s totally shameful and if not, the incompetence explanation isn’t much more promising. Those in the Defense Ministry should realize a rapidly escalating war with Hamas is ultimately far more costly, and in more ways than financial cost.

Most importantly, the advantages of the Phalanx don’t end with protecting the residents of the western Negev. If the system proves itself capable of intercepting most Qassams, it will end Israel’s immediate crisis, giving it some breathing space to seek a longer-term solution, undercut Hamas’ leverage over Israel, avert the inevitable large scale Israeli invasion of Gaza, and save a lot of lives in the process — including those Gazans who support the rocketing of Israel but don’t realize how much it’s hurting them. For these reasons alone, isn’t it at least worth trying? Dr. Farber has pleaded with the Defense Ministry to deploy Phalanx artillery batteries immediately, so far to no avail.

Pretty cool toy


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6 Responses to “Phalanx anyone?”

  1. Dovaleh Says:

    An extremely persuasive and in-depth analysis! Bravo, once again!

  2. Dr. Benjamin Zibit Says:

    4/8/08 This message is for Dr. Farber: I am Dr. Benjamin Zibit, an historian of rocketry and astronautics in new York. I have been discussing changing and upgrading Israel’s missile strategies vis-a-vis Hamas and Iran with an engineer from IMI and with a former general in the IDF.

    Could you please ask Dr. Farber to get in touch with me at

    Thank you!

    Dr. benjamin Zibit

  3. ‘U.S. to explore upgrades for Israel’s defense capabilities’ « The Green Line Says:

    […] I blogged on this topic earlier, noting that Dr. Nathan Farber’s appeal to bring the Phalanx interceptor system and other […]

  4. Michael Says:

    I am a fan of the MTHEL system,,but the Phalanx is operational right now,and is bargain priced. I wonder how much each several hundred round burst costs? Far cheaper than a missile interception,assuming it could be launched in time.

  5. Michael Says:

    Here’s that link again,sorry:

  6. Michael Says:

    I forgot to mention Goalkeeper,which can track up to 18 targets,prioritizing on the greatest threat first,versus the Phalanx,which can track only one target at a time.The former system is twice as costly,but has a 30 mm gun versus the Phalanx’s 20 mm weapon,which gives the former a bigger punch and a slightly greater kill range:

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