A rocket is a simple object, and an interceptor is a complicated system with an engine, rudders, a homing warhead and a peripheral system that allows it to carry out its mission. The price of "Tamir", the interceptor of "Iron Dome", should be compared to other interceptors, and when you do that you see that the corresponding interceptors cost 5 times and even 10 times more than our interceptor. says one of the Iron Dome developers in an interview with the Technion magazine
"The development period of 'Iron Dome' introduced us to the lifestyle of permanent personnel in field units - crazy work during the week, and sometimes also on Fridays and Saturday evenings. There wasn't an evening that I got home before 11 at night. I forgot what my family looks like when they are awake. And of course, I didn't take a single day off for three years. But I don't regret a single moment."
The speaker is Hanoch, the head of the "Iron Dome" project, and the interview was held at the project offices at Rafael's facility in the north. Four other people participate in it: Giora, David, Amnon and Hana. All are graduates of the Technion, and all will be mentioned here by their first names only.
"We didn't make an effort to choose Technion graduates here for the interview," explains Hanoch, a graduate of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering (1975)." This is really the leading team of the project, and they are all graduates of the Technion. The credit for the success is, of course, shared among the hundreds of people who were partners in the project - technicians, engineers, administrative staff - but the people sitting here are definitely at the cutting edge."
how it all began?
In 2004, a call was issued to industries to provide a permit to intercept short-range rockets. 24 solutions from different companies were received, including laser warfare (the "Nautilus" system) and an improved version of the "Vulcan" shooting system. The solutions were very diverse, and the competition was tough. We approached the tender with a proposal for a system called "Iron Dome". For a year, the various alternatives were examined by a team of experts from Mapat, and at the end of the process, Rafael's solution - an interceptor that operates in any weather - was examined.
What was the challenge?
Develop a system that will detect air threats - mainly rockets - and neutralize them autonomously. Our system has a sensor that detects the threat, a command and control system that analyzes the trajectory of the rocket and the degree of risk, and an interceptor (missile) that neutralizes it. It may sound simple, but it is a very complex system. "Qassam" rockets consist of improvised elements, which move in a very 'rough' and sloppy trajectory. Those who want to understand this should imagine a Coke bottle flying at a speed several times faster than the speed of sound, on a non-smooth trajectory. Intercept him? It sounds like an almost delusional challenge.
And if that is not enough, then the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Defense have set us a very tight schedule - the development of the system within 30 months. By comparison, our previous missile was developed for more than ten years. Also in the cost section we were given a tremendous challenge - to cut the cost of the interceptor to one-eighth of the cost of the interceptor in the previous project.
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Regarding the price, there was actually a lot of criticism in the media.
Yes, they explained that it is stupid to "waste" an interceptor that costs hundreds of thousands of shekels on a rocket that costs hundreds of dollars. To me this is a ridiculous claim. After all, you can equally say that a rifle bullet costs 10 cents, and a soldier's bullet costs 500 dollars, so why spend 500 dollars on 10 cents? It is clear that the price of the rocket is not the significant thing, but the price of the damage it is capable of causing. Years ago a rocket hit a shopping center in Ashkelon. Three people were killed, dozens were injured and millions of shekels were damaged. So what does it matter how much the rocket cost?
A rocket is a simple object, and an interceptor is a complicated system with an engine, rudders, a homing warhead and a peripheral system that allows it to carry out its mission. The price of "Tamir", the interceptor of "Iron Dome", should be compared to other interceptors, and when you do that you see that the corresponding interceptors cost 5 times and even 10 times more than our interceptor.
The review went beyond the price point. They said that the system is simply inefficient compared to the alternatives.
I do not underestimate our competitors, but the committee that discussed this matter, the Nagel Committee, met twice with the understanding that it was a matter of fate, and twice chose our solution. We, Rafael people, are used to reading the newspapers and laughing among ourselves. But we knew that the answer would come, and it came at the beginning of April, with the successful interception of the rockets. We recorded 100% success - eight hits with eight rockets over Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva.
"Maybe we should say thank you to the media," says Amnon, a graduate of the Faculty of Aeronautics and Space Engineering (2000), the system engineer of the interceptor and launcher. "Because when you read a cynical article then you say to yourself, 'Let's show them' and attack the project with renewed strength.
"All along there were articles on the subject, but after April the nature of the coverage changed and the articles started praising the system. I learned to ignore the hostile articles, but also the fans. We must not be blinded - we know there will be failures, and we will learn from them as well. What is clear is that there is an excellent system here that has proven itself.
Amnon, you are the youngest man in this room. How did you get to the project?
I finished my bachelor's and master's degrees at the Technion, and immediately joined Raphael. On one of the Fridays of 2007, I was sitting at home, frustrated by the rocket attacks on Sderot, and I told myself that something should be done about this. When I arrived at work at the beginning of the week, David, who had worked with me before, approached me and offered me to participate in the 'Iron Dome' project. It was really a wish come true.
"The success of a project is always a success in the choice of people," says David, a graduate of the Faculty of Aeronautics and Space Engineering (1972). "The best people have gathered in this project. It is true that there were many constraints in recruiting the team, but in retrospect I know that the people who made 'Iron Dome' are the people I would have chosen anyway if I had been given a completely free hand."
David studied at the Technion as a reservist, went on to long military service, and in 1980 joined Rafael. He participated in many projects, including the development of air-to-air missiles and "Popeye" (air-to-surface) missiles, and at the end of 2007 was called to join the development team of "Iron Dome" as chief engineer. "There is no doubt that the decision of Rafael's management to give top priority to this project," he says, "and transfer excellent people from other projects to it, had a huge weight here. The security system was also very cooperative, and it is important to note the subcontractors, who took significant parts in the development and also demonstrated enormous dedication."
"We got first priority in everything," says Hanoch. "This was the strategic decision of the entire management level at Rafael. They allowed us to attract people from other projects, shortened all kinds of processes for us - the main thing is that we meet the schedule, the cost definitions and, of course, the required performance."
How did you meet these constraints?
At the beginning it seems almost impossible. We believed we would succeed, but the challenge was unprecedented. In retrospect, it is clear to me that these constraints, which seemed almost impossible, led us to very creative and successful solutions. The simplicity is also reflected in the production - the production people tell us that this is the simplest missile they have ever produced.
True, as scientists we dream of sitting in our offices without the limitations of time and budget and developing perfect products. But the reality is different, and these constraints forced us to break our heads. There are parts here that are forty times cheaper than the parts we usually buy. I can even give you a scoop - it's the only rocket in the world that contains components from Toys R Us.
One day I brought my son's toy car to work. We passed it between us and saw that there are components that really suit us. I can't tell more than that.
"One of the guidelines in the project was not to get smarter, not to invent things that had already been invented before," says Giora, a graduate of the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering (1976). "That's why we went to different manufacturers and checked if they had relevant technologies. For example, I came to the manufacturer of the Patriot missile launcher to check the possibility of purchasing certain components from him, but he wanted a lot of money - tens of thousands of euros - so we had to develop it ourselves. The result of the self-development is simple and inexpensive components in orders of magnitude."
Giora, who was responsible for the launcher in the project, will retire next year. He spent his entire professional career at Rafael, in the field of launchers.
Why did you have to put your head into such a project at the end of your career?
The truth is that when I was offered to join, I hesitated. I knew it would be fascinating, but it was clear to me that there was going to be hysterical pressure here. I came to initiate, I saw the smile on his face and realized that I had no option to refuse.
And really, there were a lot of white nights here, stress, crazy schedules, but the experience was tremendous. I've been working at Rafael for three decades and I don't remember a team like this. What my friends said here is absolutely true: what made the success here are the people.
"People really fought to participate in the project," says Hanoch, "and this allowed us to filter from an excellent group of people. It was clear that there is something here that goes beyond the technological challenge, that there is a national mission here. And despite the price required here - crazy working hours, zero days off - those who came to the project did not regret it. There was an atmosphere of an elite unit here."
Where does the motivation come from?
It is clear that there was a combination of a tremendous technological challenge and a significant national mission. The mobilization was at all levels - in the management, which decided to give the project top priority; in the hundreds of people involved in development; in the people of the administration; in the production people, who also mobilized and worked with unprecedented enthusiasm; At Rotem, Chico and Mola from the Ministry of Defense/MPAAT, who were an excellent and supportive client, with a full partnership of interests with us; and the army, which assigned excellent and serious people to implement the project in the field. And I have to mention Zahava, our secretary, who was weak here on a project of a scope that is difficult to grasp.
"It's hard to explain the time pressure that was here," says Amnon. "We didn't have laboratory conditions that allow us to reach experiments with a perfect product. We had to fix faults on the fly, constantly improve the system and not 'get stuck' on ideas that sounded good but failed in the field. You have to give up all kinds of ideas and elements, and you always take the risk that this is what will bring down the system. But very quickly we developed an excellent filtering skill here, a gut feeling that tells us when to leave an idea and move on without it.
"One should not conclude from this that there were no crises and failures. Certainly there were, but despair - no. at no point The first test of the system failed, but we developed very healthy reaction mechanisms: within half an hour we recover, offer solutions, pick up the phone from the field and request an improved version of the missile. A culture of risk-taking has grown here, with the understanding that you can learn a lot from failures as well. Every experiment - successful or failed - entailed a professional and very thorough investigation. We learned to generate solutions in a few hours, then conduct another experiment.
"As Hanoch said, there were many and heavy constraints here, but they were very useful to us. In retrospect, we see that the intuitive solutions we started with were, in many cases, very complicated. The time constraints, and especially the cost limitations, led us to the simplest solutions which, in the end, are the most successful.
"At the same time," says Hana, who graduated with a master's degree in systems engineering at the Technion, "you need to understand that the system is made up of many hardware and software components that are integrated into the systems (interceptor, launcher, SHOB, radar, etc.) that make up the Iron Dome array. We had to use a combination and testing strategy that allows the development teams to absorb the systems and transform them in a very short time into a full array, functioning both in the experiment and in the operational activity.
"Time constraints led us to continue development while testing, and this was possible thanks to a professional team and excellent cooperation between the development, system engineering and management teams. We formulated working methods, while learning from other projects and mainly based on our own experience over time. The level of severity of each malfunction was carefully considered, and decisions on repairs were made by teams of experts in change committees organized within half an hour, every hour of the day."
"That is very true," says Hanoch. "We had to remember that the mission is not a perfect system but a system that works well. We know that the enemy of the good is the best, and we have been wary of that all the time."
"This project was very different from previous projects," adds David. "The world of skydiving in Rafael is characterized by a tendency towards creativity, revolution, and the pursuit of something perfect and innovative. Here, because of the constraints, we tried to utilize existing things that were developed in the past and their success was proven, but later we had to develop new things to meet price and performance constraints. In some cases, the new and cheaper solutions also achieved better performance."
Have you seen the system in the field?
Of course - the soldiers who operate the system have our phone numbers and call us with any problem. The army was involved in the project from the very first moment, from the level of requirements and specifications, and subsequently operating teams were established and dedicated courses were held. Basically there were battery commanders before there were batteries. Very quickly a personal acquaintance was formed between us and the operators. We included them in the experiments, and when the system arrived in the field we educated them, transferred the operation into their hands, and turned from operators to observers. Today, after every operational activity, we receive a report, so that we can analyze what happened and improve the system.
"From the beginning we made sure to think operationally," says Hanoch. "One of the requirements we defined from the beginning is that a soldier who is sixty meters tall and weighs forty-eight kilograms can go up to the position and activate the launcher. It was important for us to be practical, connected to the field. Well, it is true that there were also design considerations. To the designer of the launcher, for example, I said that I want a launcher that looks ultra-modern and menacing, because obviously within an hour of its activation it will appear on CNN and Al Jazeera.
"Our relationship with the people in the field was unprecedented, and this was an essential condition for the system to adapt to all the constraints of the field. I remember that one of the female soldiers who lives in Hazor HaGalilit stationed at the Iron Dome battery said to me, 'I am poisoned by Iron Dome, and that is why I intend to ask to stay permanently.'"