After a some discussion in the comments section and a few emails from my uber-intelligent readers it seems we have come to a bit of a conundrum.  A single strap-on Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) GPS guided bomb kit, a system that simply attaches some control surfaces, a GPS receiver, and a control computer to a dumb gravity bomb, costs $18,000 a unit, after thousands of units were built. A RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile used for close in defense by US and allied Navy ships costs about $500,000 per unit and is fielded in fairly extensive numbers. So with these numbers in mind, how on earth does each Iron Dome “Tamir” interceptor cost $65,000, especially considering the very limited production run of these specialized missiles so far??? If this widely reported cost per round is in fact true than we need to find out what the Israelis are doing to manufacture such a cheap yet advanced expendable munition because we could sure use that magic back here in the US. Especially considering that the US paid for a good part of the system’s development in the first place.

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  1. Ctrot says:

    I’m not sure we know enough of the specifics to come to an educated conclusion on this issue. Just because one weapon costs X doesn’t mean another we see as being similar should also cost X, there are many factors to be considered and most of them are probably unknowable to us.

    Consider that Lockheed Martin and Boeing have been manufacturing space launch vehicles for decades, along comes SpaceX with the Falcon 9 launch vehicle comparable to or better than Delta/Atlas for a fraction of the cost of either. How do they do it? Again, many factors involved and we can’t begin to know them all.

    It is possible / probable that Rafael has lower operation costs than Raytheon. The quoted price for the RIM-116 may include things that aren’t being included in the price of an Iron Dome round. Again, we just don’t know. Anyone who has dealt with accountants will know that there are many ways of pricing an item.

    As for the US financing Iron Dome, again I don’t believe that we know all the facts there either. According to news accounts I’ve seen Israel developed Iron Dome on its own dime up until the Obama administration kicked in $200 million to help speed things up. How much had Israel already spent? If we don’t know that how do we know how much the $200 million was proportionately? Israel is reported to be spending a billion dollars to deploy 10-15 batteries of Iron Dome, above what has been spent in development.

    To the question of “Is it worth it?” Given that I’m not in the flight path of Qassams I don’t feel entirely qualified to say. But I don’t think the cost of a Qassam is really a good measure of Iron Domes worth. The US spends thousands of dollars per soldier on personal armor to protect against 15 cent AK-47 rounds, is that also a non cost effective solution? It isn’t the cost of the weapon you are protecting against that matters, it is the value of the target being protected. In the case of both personal armor for soldiers and Iron Dome the target being protected is human life.

    But to the purely finacial issue there is one more “costs / benefits” point to consider and that is that Israel plans to sell Iron Dome to other interested countries, which will tend to help pay for it’s development, deployment and use by Israel. And Rafael is said to be partnering with Raytheon in future development / sales which could lead to bring back to the US some of the $200 million “investment” in Iron Dome.

  2. Dainon says:


    Of course the per unit cost of comparable systems is important. Bench marking is critical in business, and making war machines is most certainly a business; only in a world of politicians, where sunk costs are treated inappropriately (“we’ve already put this much in, it would be a waste to quit this horrible F-35 program now), are comparables not looked at. It is time to stop letting politicians use emotional fear-based pleas to justify their contractors getting fat while screwing up so badly. As soon as a better, or cheaper at same quality, system comes along, it is time to switch.

    As to the body armor question, this is something that really gets my goat. Armor becomes a method of supporting bad decisions; as vehicles got more armored, bombs got bigger, soldiers were not any more safe, and the civilians got hurt more. Also, as the vehicles got more armored, their other capabilities diminished (ever seen troops dismount from a Rhino? It is like watching octogenarians get out of a Cadillac), and fewer vehicles were used (cost and personnel factors). Those units which used them became ineffective at their jobs. When I showed up in Iraq, my light infantry battalion relieved a heavy cav battalion from the 1st Armor. That battalion didn’t even bother to patrol most their sector, as their Abrams and Bradleys could only use major roads; the troops got stuck to thinking they needed the armor.

    My real question is the price of the control unit. How do they make a radar so cheaply? The launch/control unit for our Javelins was 250k per; and it didn’t have to detect and track another missile.

    • says:

      Great points here guys, thanks for commenting.

      Dainon- Cost of a single Iron Dome battery sans “ammo” and support infrastructure is $50M. Not cheap.

  3. Will says:

    I’m inclined to think the unit costs are much higher than is being let on, given Iron Dome’s sophistication and small scale of the production run. Perhaps Rafael is selling them to the Israeli’s at a discounted price, or the quoted cost factors in increased production resulting from future exports, but it still seems improbably low.

    I can’t help feeling that Israel is investing in weapons rather than peace. In the long term, the running costs for Iron Dome and other defense expenditures, providing subsidies and benefits to settlers, the cost of the military occupation, and losing out on trade with neighbouring countries will eclipse anything Israel would receive from arms exports.

    Israel should have considered the Arab Peace proposal that they’ve been ignoring since 2002, but the 2 state solution is now all but dead, and fancy interceptors have no use against a civil rights movement.

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