"Brig. Gen. (res.) Dr. Danny Gold went against Defense Ministry directive 20.02 when he decided in August 2005 to develop the anti-missile defense system Iron Dome, to set a timetable for this development and ordered a 'telescopic acceleration' of the project … [these steps], which are not under the authority of the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure but rather, were, in this instance, under the authority of the IDF chief of general staff, the defense minister and the government of Israel." This excerpt was written by former State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss in a report he submitted in 2009.
This comptroller's report sparked an avalanche of negative responses in the media, the most memorable of which was an angry analysis that ran in Haaretz under the headline "Iron Dome: a foreseeable failure."
The article featured the following paragraph: "in fact, the entire inception of Iron Dome was done in sin, because one cog in the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure, Brig. Gen. Dr. Danny Gold, took it upon himself to assume the responsibilities of the IDF chief of staff, the defense minister and the government of the State of Israel, before the project was approved in the proper channels. In other words, desk job Gold decided on his own with complete disregard for the IDF chief of staff, the defense minister and the entire government."
With the hindsight we have today, in light of Iron Dome's resounding success during the recent Operation Pillar of Defense, these words read almost like a call for a commendation. And indeed, two months ago, the long-awaited and well deserved gratitude finally arrived when the team of Iron Dome developers, headed by Danny Gold, won the Israel Defense Prize.
The success of Iron Dome can be attributed to a long list of individuals, but it is precisely the harsh criticism that was hurled at him that singles out Danny Gold as someone who deserves the title of "the man who gave us Iron Dome." He thought up the idea and initiated the project that ultimately yielded this victorious and sophisticated defense system.
Obviously he was not alone, and there is a large group of engineers and developers and security officials and employees of the Israel Air Force and the IDF, who are equally worthy of the glory. Each one contributed his or her best to the successful completion of the project.
And we mustn’t forget the political echelon — especially former Defense Minister Amir Peretz who pushed for the approval of the project against the grain in the defense establishment. But Gold was singled out by the state comptroller and by the media as the "culprit" in the inception of the project, and precisely for that reason he deserves public recognition today.
Q: Dr. Gold, is that what you did? Did you assume the authority of the IDF chief of staff, the defense minister and the prime minister?
"No. I had a disagreement with the state comptroller on that point. He didn't agree with my opinion, but to this day I believe that I did the right thing. It is true that I didn't wait for all the bureaucratic processes that would have taken years, but I did exactly what I should have done within my authority as the head of research and development. That means that I started working."
Q: Was it this shortcut that enabled you to complete the development of the system and to make it operational by 2010?
"I don't think it was a shortcut, it was a bringing together of basic research and development and the start of full development — that was my disagreement with the comptroller. Combining all the developments and ideas into a finished product — that was essential, and it certainly shortened the time frame."
In fact, this is the Archimedean point that can be used to explain how Gold had the nerve to order the development of the system ostensibly before the project was approved by the proper authorities.
In the development process there are two stages that are relevant to our discussion: research and development and development and implementation. In the first stage all the different aspects of the system are formulated, mainly theoretically, and based on the result, assuming that it is satisfactory to the client (the Defense Ministry in this case), the product can be physically developed and ultimately manufactured.
Gold said, not in so many worlds, that development is development and thus justified unifying the two stages into one. In other words, he simultaneously initiated both the theoretical and the practical stages, which allowed him to save a lot of time. "It is a gray area," Gold says today. "I couldn't convince the comptroller, but we treated his criticism with the utmost respect. He was doing his job."
Q: Aren't you angry at those people who tried to sabotage the project? Those who tried to trip you up?
"I am completely not angry. It only made the process more challenging and more interesting. People worked on the development like mad men, truly day and night, and the comptrollers and critics, like the pair of old guys in the Muppet Show, sat on the sidelines and criticized. It never really bothered us."
Like running 15 start-up companies
Brig. Gen. (res.) Gold is 51 years old, married with two children and has a double Ph.D. in electrical engineering and business. He has served in a wide array of positions in electronics, armament, electronic warfare and more in both the Israel Air Force and the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure. Among other jobs, he was a senior project head in the Defense Ministry before he was appointed head of research and development.
In 2004, then-Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Halutz established an inter-corps team to examine the handling of high trajectory weapons, in all respects. Gold was appointed to head that team. "I saw the gaps," he says. "That is when I had the idea of intercepting missiles. It was completely delusional back then, and I didn't expect to get any funding for the development, but I decided, we will build an interceptor, no matter what."
Within the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure, Gold assembled an inter-corps team of experts from every discipline who approached the various defense industries looking for ideas for a missile interception system. That was in 2005. "We came up with 24 ideas, and we rejected all of them," he says. "In our estimation, none of them would have worked in the long run. Among the rejected ideas were laser systems and rapid-fire guns that were later used as arguments against the administration's decision to develop Iron Dome."
And that is how Iron Dome was born: "We assembled a combination that was based on experience and cumulative know-how behind Rafael missile technology," Gold explains, referring to Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. "In one meeting, the entire team decided what kind of performance was required, what the costs would be, the ranges, the salvos, everything in one meeting. Then we approached Rafael and asked them to be the primary manufacturer of the system. We suggested the Israel Aerospace Industries as a secondary manufacturer for the radar system and another company, which was little known at the time, called mPrest, to build the controls and to provide data analysis. And we were on our way."
Q: Where did you get funding for the project?
"We had a general development budget which was earmarked for many projects, and I took a serious chunk out of that and used it to jump-start the development. Rafael, to their credit, matched the sum. I assured them that within a year or two I would get the big money for them, and in the meantime we could develop the technology.
"Meanwhile, we prepared an alternative funding plan, with the help of civilian investors. These were investors we had successfully cooperated with on other projects. We didn't reveal what the product was. We only told them 'put a few tens of millions of dollars aside. If we need the money, we will contact you.' In the end we didn't need to use their money. In 2007 we finally got the main development budget, and only after many arguments between the defense minister and the defense establishment. The official development contract with Rafael was signed, and the contract included two full batteries and an impressive amount of interception missiles. The system was a go. When we reached the manufacturing stage, we got funding from the U.S.
"The development parameters and the characteristics of the system were irregular in every way. The time frame was set at three years — a fifth of the customary time frame in such complex weaponry, which is usually estimated at 15 years; the costs were a tenth of the customary sum required for the development of similar systems; the performance was in any type of weather, in the face a range of projectiles, a variety of ranges, elimination of the threat in the air, ability to handle a multi-projectile salvo and regional, not pinpoint, protection."
These were extravagant goals, but the administration didn’t stop there. "We added more and more demands, because the threats were advancing," Gold says. "It was like running 15 serious start-up companies at the same time, all of which have to work in harmony with one another and be successful in record time."
The team that spearheaded this project was extremely small — three or four people and a lieutenant colonel. "We worked in a way that was contrary to all the project management textbooks," Gold smiles. "Everything was irregular. What was especially irregular was that we didn't compromise in selecting our engineers. We picked the best in the entire country, without a second thought. We had 70-year-old missile experts working alongside 25-year-old engineers fresh out of college, working shoulder to shoulder without any hierarchy. The one who is right is the one who decides."
Q: Is that the secret to Iron Dome's success?
"When you're dealing with the best of the best, there is no limit to what you can achieve. This is a groundbreaking product: you can call it cellular protection. It protects civilians. It creates a protected area and anything that tries to infiltrate that area is destroyed.
Q: In your mind, what are Iron Dome's main advantages?
"Alongside the unique contribution to saving human lives and the fact that it only intercepts projectiles headed for a defined protected area, it also gives the political and defense establishments the freedom to plan tactical and strategic maneuvers. It gives the IDF breathing room in its offensives, as the civilians are protected by a safety net. It is much easier when there aren't any casualties on the homefront. The system also saves the cost of economic damage both by preventing physical destruction and by preventing the economy from being paralyzed. For Israel, this is the first line of defense against the main threat we face — the missile threat."
Intercepting the criticism
The criticism against the Iron Dome system, heard even today despite its proven successes during Operation Pillar of Defense, revolve around the question of why alternative technologies were not considered, like the laser-based system (Nautilus, Sky-Guard) or the rapid-fire gun (Vulcan Phalanx).
Among other things, it was argued that the cost of a laser beam is far lower than that of a Tamir missile, which the Iron Dome system fires to intercept incoming projectiles ($2,000 dollars vs. more than $50,000). The laser is more readily available and there is no fear that the system will run out of ammunition. Furthermore, a laser is not limited by range, and more.
Dr. Gold explains that "we studied all these systems, and we rejected all of them. It wasn't just my team, it was also the Yaakov Nagel committee which was appointed by Shmuel Keren, the director of the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure, to re-examine our decisions. The committee reached the same conclusions, that Iron Dome was the best solution."
"On the laser issue, even though we are involved in quite a few projects involving lasers, like defense systems for passenger planes, we are also currently developing a very powerful laser, but the world, and we, are not there yet. We will be ready to begin full development in seven or eight years. And even then, it will always be Iron Dome's little brother. Whatever Iron Dome tells the laser to do, it will do. They can potentially work together, but the dome is in the lead. There is also a matter of quantity: 13-15 Iron Dome batteries can provide protection to the entire country, and if you use a laser you need far more batteries."
"Specifically, the Nautilus, which was initiated by President Shimon Peres in collaboration with the Americans, is a technology demonstrator. The Nautilus system demonstrated the capability of intercepting shells and mortars with less than 100% success, and the system is huge, like a soccer field. After the demonstration, the development of the system was halted, in the U.S. too. We also looked at the Sky-Guard (also laser-based) system. It wasn't a good fit for us, neither in terms of performance nor of cost."
"Laser systems have several inherent problems that make them ideal as complementary systems, but not as primary defense. For example: a laser cannot penetrate clouds, so it is rendered ineffective in wintery weather. The laser can't handle rapid salvos, and it provides pinpoint protection — it can't protect a wide area."
Q: You never had any doubts?
"No. I never had any doubts. Ever since 2004, the need burned in me. And if the drive was so powerful, I knew that there was no possibility that we would fail. As early as the first test runs, the Iron Dome system already intercepted all the missiles fired at it.
Q: Have you visited one of the batteries during an active operation?
"No. I haven't visited. I didn’t want to get in the way."