Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow: Israel’s air defense against Iran, explained

Author: Editors Desk, Niha Masih, Loveday Morris, Júlia Ledur, Samuel Granados and Tim Meko Source: The Washington Post
April 15, 2024 at 03:11
Israel's Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran in this past weekend's attack. (Tomer Neuberg/AP)  Listen 3 min  Share  Comment 1 Add to your saved stories
Israel's Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran in this past weekend's attack. (Tomer Neuberg/AP) Listen 3 min Share Comment 1 Add to your saved stories

When Iran launched a five-hour barrage of more than 300 drones and missiles toward Israel, the country’s vaunted air defense systems and a network of U.S.-led allies staved off the unprecedented air attack. The sophisticated, multilayered defenses were developed with billions in U.S. funding, and since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, the Biden administration has proposed billions more in military funding for Israel.

“We intercepted. We thwarted. Together we will win,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted on X following the attack.

Here’s what to know about Israel’s air defense system.


Iron Dome

One of the centerpieces of Israeli air defense is the Iron Dome, developed by the Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries. First put into service in 2011, it is designed to stop short-range rockets and artillery like those frequently fired from Gaza by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.


How the Israeli Iron Dome air defense system works






radar unit detects a missile or shell headed into Israeli airspace.

Data on the missile is sent to a battle management and control unit that assesses the threat and plots an intercept course. 

firing unit launches a missile equiped with radar and a special warhead that strikes the incoming threat.




Relying on a system of radar and analysis, the Iron Dome determines whether an incoming rocket is a threat and fires an interceptor only if there’s a danger to a populated area or important infrastructure. Israeli officials and defense companies have said that the Iron Dome has a success rate of more than 90 percent, though some defense analysts question those numbers.


David’s Sling

David’s Sling, the middle layer of Israel’s air defense network, is designed to intercept ballistic and cruise missiles as well as medium- to long-range rockets. It has been operational since 2017.

Developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Raytheon, a major U.S. defense contractor, David’s Sling is designed to counter rockets and missiles fired at a range of 25 to 186 miles.



Land defense 

systems of Israel


1,000 miles

Iron Dome


Each Iron Dome battery can defend an area of up to 58 square miles.




60 miles

Arrow System

David’s Sling

25 to 186 miles

Up to 1,490 miles



Iron Dome is an Israeli mobile missile defense system designed to intercept short-range rockets and artillery. It is intended to counter unguided rocket and drone attacks.

Defense system intended to prevent attacks from aircraft, helicopters, bombers, cruise missiles, UAVs and stand-off weapons.

Firing Unit

Firing Unit

20 container launchers each 

with one Tamir missile.

Two types of missiles, the Python-5 for short-range engagements and the Derby for medium-range.

11.8 ft.

Missile range

Missile range

3 to 43 miles

Up to 62 miles

9.8 ft.

10.2 ft.


Up to 6 miles



It is designed to intercept ballistic and cruise missiles. Capable of intercepting targets at altitudes of up to 15 km. 

Upper layer of Israel’s missile defense system. The Arrow 3 is the longest-range interceptor currently fielded with the Arrow Weapon System, complementing the Arrow 2, which engages targets in the upper atmosphere. 

Firing Unit

Firing Unit

6 to 12 Stunner interceptor 


Up to 6 missiles

22.9 ft

Missile range

Missile range

25 to 186 miles

Up to 1,491 km

15 ft.



Up to 9 miles

62 km

Note: Not all of Israel’s defense systems are included.

Sources: CSIS, Rafael, Army Recognition


The Arrow 2 and 3 systems are designed to intercept missiles flying outside Earth’s atmosphere and form the top level of Israel’s air defense network.

Completed in 2017, the Arrow 3 was first tested in combat last year, intercepting a missile fired by the Iranian-supported Houthis in Yemen toward the Israeli city of Eilat. Jointly funded and developed with the United States, it does not use explosives like the Arrow 2, instead relying solely on the damage that is caused by the interception itself.

As attacks were launched from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, a U.S.-led coalition including Britain and France provided crucial support.

Among the U.S. forces that participated were the 494th Fighter Squadron, headquartered in Britain, and the 335th Fighter Squadron of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. The two squadrons flew F-15E Strike Eagles and took down about 70 attack drones headed toward Israel, The Washington Post reported.

The USS Carney and USS Arleigh Burke, destroyers stationed in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, shot down between four and six ballistic missiles while U.S. troops manning the Patriot missile defense system in Irbil, Iraq, took down a missile that had violated Iraqi airspace on its vector to Israel, according to a senior military official speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.

British Royal Air Force planes shot down “a number of Iranian attack drones,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

Jordan, which has criticized Israel’s war in Gaza, shot down munitions that were in its airspace to prevent them “from endangering the safety of our citizens and residential and populated areas,” its government said.


Dan Lamothe, Alex Horton, Adam Taylor and Brittany Shammas contributed to this report.

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