Back in 1983, U.S. President Ronald Reagan proposed a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), mockingly dubbed “Star Wars” by the then-GOP president’s detractors. SDI was an anti-ballistic missile defense system that would have, had it ever gotten off the ground (so to speak), intercepted incoming missiles and formed a protective shield over the U.S.
The Cold War Museum describes the initiative this way:
“The weapons required included space- and ground-based nuclear X-ray lasers, subatomic particle beams, and computer-guided projectiles fired by electromagnetic rail guns—all under the central control of a supercomputer system.” By using these systems, the United States planned to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles while they still flew high above the Earth, minimizing their effects. However, there was a large power requirement for these types of weapons — power requirements so vast that nuclear power was the method of choice. Thus, as the reality of creating numerous nuclear plants diminished, so did the ambitious designs.
By the end of SDI, the primary focus of the weapons design group was focused on “land based kinetic energy weapons.” These weapons were essentially guided missile projectiles. At the end of the Strategic Defense Initiative, thirty billion dollars had been invested in the program and no laser and mirror system was ever used, not on land, not in space.
The Strategic Defense Initiative was eventually abandoned, and after a few years, it was nothing other than a short chapter in history books.
Well, it was relegated to the history books until Israel, facing a more constant threat from closer enemies than the U.S. during the Cold War, decided to incorporate the technology into what ultimately became their Iron Dome. It was operational by 2011.
Three decades after Reagan’s landmark proposal, the technical issue is moot. This week, the world has watched Israel‘s Iron Dome system — partially funded by the U.S. and incorporating U.S. technology — perform remarkably well against more than 1,000 Hamas rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. When rockets are launched, Iron Dome calculates almost instantly whether they are headed for populated areas, then intercepts them as needed. The Israeli military says Iron Dome has been 87 to 90 percent effective and is the key reason why there’s been only one Israeli civilian fatality.
By 2017, it had upgraded its defense capabilities — with help from U.S. aerospace firm Boeing — to include outer space.
The Arrow 3, together with the Arrow 2, which has been operational since 2000, would “significantly reduce the possibilities of ballistic missiles” hitting Israel, the ministry said in a statement.
The Arrow 2 is designed to intercept projectiles high and low within the atmosphere. Arrow 3 missiles will fly into space, where their warheads detach to become “kamikaze” satellites that track and slam into their targets.
Such high-altitude shoot-downs are meant to safely destroy incoming nuclear, biological or chemical missiles. Israel has frequently voiced concern about a ballistic missile threat posed by its arch-foe, Iran.
(For what it’s worth, the U.S. has its own outer space missile defense system called Aegis.)
A few skiers atop Mount Hermon above the disputed Golan Heights got to witness exactly what this Iron Dome is equipped to do as they watched what was later reported to be a Syrian missile be intercepted and destroyed high above harm’s way.
An Israeli interception of a Syrian missile was caught on a snowboarder’s camera from the snowy slopes of Mount Hermon on the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Israel’s military said its Iron Dome interceptor system shot down a rocket fired at the northern part of the occupied Golan Heights on the Syria frontier on Sunday.
Syrian state TV then reported an Israeli air raid near Damascus. When questioned about the raid, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau would only say:
“We have a defined policy: to harm Iranian entrenchment in Syria and to harm anyone who tries to harm us.”