It began in 2001.  Crude, homemade and unguided.  Indiscriminate as to objective or target – not meant to do anything but inspire terror.  It has a name – صاروخ القسام‎ ṢārÅ«kh al-Qassām;

qassam-launch

Comprised of a  simple steel rocket filled with explosives, powered by a homebrew mixture of sugar and potassium nitrate (fertilizer) with warheads made of TNT and urea nitrate. Four hits in 2001, 35 in 2002 and by 2007, it was measured in the thousands.  As low tech as the rockets are, they are giving the IDF fits in attempting to thwart them.  Efforts to build a shield based on a variety of kinetic options, under the rubric of “Iron Dome” have met with desultory success.  This is due in no small part to the fore shortened battlespace.  A Qassam launched from the Gaza travels roughly  9 seconds before landing at or near its current max range of 12km (20km for the later models):

kassam

To effect an intercept in the terminal stage requires the right weapon positioned for effective coverage with an exceptionally quick detect to launch cycle.  Absent the wonders (and suspension of physical laws) of Hollywood f/x, for a conventional missile or gun-based system, the odds for a miss are high  and in this scenario, so is the penalty for misses.  Consider:

The upshot is that the prime minister, who just two months ago declared that “we will not fortify ourselves to death,” was compelled to approve recommendations to fortify 8,000 homes in Sderot and the communities of the “Gaza envelope,” to the tune of NIS 300 million. Such protection is necessary because these homes lie within 4.5 kilometers of the Gaza Strip.

But a mere day later, it turned out that the plan was too ambitious and that budget shortfalls meant that only 3,600 homes in Sderot and the Gaza envelope can be fortified within the next two years. The solemn declarations to fortify the homes, revoked only hours later, are just the latest chapter in a gloomy saga replete with deception, lies, concealment of the truth from policymakers, groundless promises to Sderot residents, the unexplained rejection of the arguments for examining additional defense systems other than Iron Dome, and bizarre decisions made in the Defense Ministry. (Haaretz.com)

So two of the three pillars of missile defense are already accounted for, under current conditions – active and passive defenses.  Each is found wanting so leaving the IDF with the third leg, offensive measures which, it would seem, came under consideration some several months before the current operation – ostensibly while taking onboard the “lessons learned” from the 2006 campaign in Lebanon.  Still, with all that behind them, parallels – justified or not, are being drawn in the Western media and the Arab street over “disproportionate response” and so while Israel may benefit in the short-run from decapitating strikes against Hamas leadership, in the longer run it isn’t too hard to foresee a resurgence of the antebellum status quo, absent a breakthrough in defensive weaponry.

What lessons might we draw from this scenario?  That missile defense is necessary at levels lower than we commonly think of (metropolitan vice intercontinentalal) to afford national decision-makers options other than a bunker mentality or having to resort to use of massive conventional forces – definitely.  That development of said capability at the local, as at the intercontinental range, is hard and if anything, probably more pressing because of the disruption, damage and loss of life it can incur. 

There is also a Navy quotient in here as one ponders the access denial possibilities that the deployment and employment of literally hundreds of these crude weapons entails in the opening or continued operations of  an SPOD or APOD, that is defendable from the maritime environment.  Suppose you are the CO of an LCS given charge to provided air- and missile defense to a contingent of Marines and Seabees ashore to open or keep open an APOD for further staging of forces when the first waves of Qassam’s (or their successors) are inbound.  How will you counter them?  Are the right mission modules being designed and built for this contingency?  Food for thought…

ship_gd-austal_lcs_diorama_lg

5 Comments

  1. Thomas Barton

    Antebellum status quo is the precision strike phrase for this endless and unending Muck and Mire of Men and Missiles.

  2. Marv

    A non military guy is just curious here:
    Is the range of a Phalanx system great enough to be effective against these weapons?

  3. Steeljawscribe

    Marv:

    Problem with the Phalanx system is you are going to put a lot of DU rounds into urban areas; friendly urban areas. Not a problem at sea – ashore, that’s a different matter. A land-based version was looked at but the Israelis evidently thought the cure was worse than the threat because of that problem. Ditto a laser-based system, the toxicity of the chemicals used to fuel the laser and potential leakage/spillage was deemed too high a risk to go forward.

    w/r,
    SJS

  4. sid

    Will the one mission at a time LCS be configured to engage?

  5. Capt Clint

    This type of weapon could be used against Washington DC on 20 January. I personally would not go within 500 miles of Washington for the next month. Just 2 or 3 of these weapons would cause mass panic.

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