US missile warning system that protects Israel from Iran

The Space-Based Infrared System SBIRS is the great protective screen that allows Iron Dome to fulfil its defensive mission 
El líder supremo, Ali Jamenei, el presidente Ebrahim Raisi y el JEMAD, general Mohamed Bagheri, han querido causar el menor daño posible en su ataque a Israel para evitar fuertes represalias - PHOTO/República Islámica de Irán
PHOTO/Islamic Republic of Iran - Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Ebrahim Raisi and JEMAD General Mohamed Bagheri have wanted to cause as little damage as possible in their attack on Israel to avoid strong retaliation
  1. Infrared radiation from the propulsion system
  2. Vast majority of missiles and drones shot down

Iran's senior political and military authorities wanted their attack on Israel to have as few consequences as possible. And so it has. 

The Persian leadership has been particularly keen that the White House, the Israel Defence Force (IDF), some Middle Eastern nations and China, its main ally, should know in advance the date and even the time of a retaliatory action that can be described as "for internal consumption" by its population.

Tehran is well aware that Washington has a planet-wide space constellation dedicated to monitoring locations from which long- and medium-range missiles can be fired from land or sea. If it happens, sophisticated satellites locate the exact launch point, track its trajectory and issue an early warning to activate the missile defence system that should cause it to be shot down. 

El Sistema de Infrarrojos Basado en el Espacio SBIRS es una constelación de satélites que proporciona alerta temprana ante el disparo de misiles balísticos y de explosiones nucleares - PHOTO/L3Harris 
The Space Based Infrared System SBIRS is a constellation of satellites that provides early warning of ballistic missile and nuclear explosions - PHOTO/L3Harris 

This is the Space-Based InfraRed System or SBIRS. The initial constellation of six satellites began deployment in 2006 and was expanded with a second constellation of six in 2011. Four are currently known to be located in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometres above the Earth and two others in lower positions, to provide periodic coverage over any point on Earth. 

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has put the total cost of SBIRS at around 20 billion dollars. Its prime contractor and biggest beneficiary is the major industrial corporation Lockheed Martin. But the sophisticated infrared sensors, which are the heart of the system, are the work of Northrop Grumman, another giant of the US electronics, aerospace and defence industry.  

El jefe de Estado Mayor de las Fuerzas Armadas de Irán, general Mohamed Bagheri, fue consciente de que SBIRS iba a interceptar gran parte de sus misiles - PHOTO/República Islámica de Irán
The Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, General Mohammed Bagheri, was aware that SBIRS was going to intercept a large part of his missiles - PHOTO/República Islámica de Irán

Infrared radiation from the propulsion system

These sensors are extremely sensitive and, as a result, their development and manufacture is shrouded in secrecy. But it is known that the so-called "electronic sniffer" of SBIRS is passive. Their sniffing capability is only activated when they detect emissions in the infrared spectrum, once the missile is fired, which is when technicians in the surveillance squadrons detect the launch point. 

The satellites located 36,000 kilometres away have two telescopes, both in the infrared band. One is used to scan large areas and is dedicated to scanning wide swathes of terrain. The other, more sensitive, is aimed at smaller areas to accurately detect the infrared signature of missile and ballistic rocket launches. 

In the wake of Iran's anticipated attack on Israel, the Missile Warning Centre has been in close contact with "analysts from different US intelligence agencies and the Department of Defence," Space Command sources confirm. "The satellites were repositioned in orbit to obtain optimal coverage of the region and to cover Iran and all the territories around the State of Israel".

El jefe del Mando Central de Estados Unidos, general Michael Erik Kurilla, celebró una reunión de coordinación el 12 de abril con el JEMAD de Israel, teniente general Herzi Halevi - PHOTO/IDF
US Central Command chief General Michael Erik Kurilla held a coordination meeting with Israeli Defense Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi on 12 April - PHOTO/IDF

On the day of the attack, the night of 13-14 April, the surveillance squadrons detected the infrared signatures of the Iranian missile propulsion engine flares, allowing them to interpret and identify their characteristics, speed, trajectory, final target and, in short, to assess the degree of threat.  

All data and analysis were fed into the Missile Warning Centre, located at the US Space Command's Joint Operations Centre in the interior of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is staffed by civilian and military personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Space Force, with the presence of military personnel from Canada.

Dos satélites SBIRS en plena fabricación en la factoría de Lockheed Martin. Los avanzados sensores infrarrojos son obra de Northrop Grumman, otro gigante de la industria norteamericana - PHOTO/Lockheed Martin
Two SBIRS satellites are in production at the Lockheed Martin factory. The advanced infrared sensors are the work of Northrop Grumman, another US industrial giant - PHOTO/Lockheed Martin

Vast majority of missiles and drones shot down

The equipment installed at the Warning Centre fused data from SBIRS satellites with data from ground-based sensors. The array has the capability to geolocate the source of jamming signals intended to conceal ballistic missile launches.

The degree of risk of each missile attack, with a flight time of less than six minutes, was assessed with the utmost haste. The information was passed on to the IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, in order to improve the efficiency of its air defence system.

El general Mohamed Bagheri explica las características de un misil crucero de fabricación nacional al líder supremo de Irán, Ali Jamenei - PHOTO/República Islámica de Irán
General Mohammed Bagheri explains the characteristics of a domestically produced cruise missile to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei - PHOTO/República Islámica de Irán

According to his spokesman, Brigadier General Daniel Hagari, the number of ballistic missiles launched by Iran and its allies was "approximately 120, but few penetrated Jewish territory". The number of cruise missiles was 'around 30, but none entered Israel' and the number of drones was around 170, but 'not a single one reached Israeli airspace'. 

Data provided on 14 April by General Hagari estimated that the MIM-104 Patriot radar system and missiles that make up the Iron Dome, Israel's United Israeli Combat Fighters, Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 anti-missile missiles, "together with their international partners" intercepted and shot down "99% of the aerial threats".

El Centro de Alerta de Misiles está en el centro de Operaciones Conjuntas del Mando Espacial de Estados Unidos, en el interior de la montaña Cheyenne, en Colorado Springs, estado de Colorado - PHOTO/USAF-Sgt. Mike Andriacco
The Missile Warning Centre is located at the US Space Command's Joint Operations Centre inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, Colorado - PHOTO/USAF-Sgt. Mike Andriacco

In a lengthy statement issued by President Ebrahim Raisi after the raid, he does not give an account of the outcome. It only states that Iran "has attacked military targets belonging to the Zionist occupying regime in the territories of Palestine". It justifies this as 'a response to the aggressive actions of the Zionist regime against Iran's objectives and interests, especially the military attack on 1 April against our embassy in Damascus'. 

Foreign Minister Husein Amirabdollahian, in a terse statement on the social network X, says that after exercising the "right of self-defence" and demonstrating Iran's "responsible approach to regional and international peace and security", Iran "does not intend to continue defensive operations but, if necessary, will not hesitate to protect its legitimate interests against any further aggression". Benjamin Netanyahu now has the floor. But he, US President Joe Biden and world leaders know that he is playing with fire.