The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating story yesterday about the genesis of Iron Dome, Israel’s now-celebrated rocket-defense system that shot down 84 percent of the Hamas projectiles it shot at during the recent Gaza war. Many are now eager to claim credit for its success, but the Journal makes a convincing case that the real genius behind it is a now-retired general named Daniel Gold.
With a Ph.D. in mathematics, he was a natural choice to become director of the Ministry of Defense’s Research and Development department. But what he really showed a genius for was in cutting through the bureaucracy: He set the Iron Dome program into motion without the sign off of his superiors, a step for which he was criticized by the state comptroller. But he bulled ahead anyway, despite the risks involved, and in the face of almost universal skepticism from the rest of the military about the possibility of intercepting short-range rockets in flight–something that had to be done within seconds of launch.
His experience echoes that of other great military innovators such as Britain’s Admiral Jackie Fisher (a key supporter of dreadnoughts and submarines), U.S. Admiral William Moffett (father of naval aviation), U.S. General Curtis LeMay (the driving force behind long-range bombing), and U.S. Admiral Hyman Rickover (father of the nuclear navy). All were mavericks who risked disdain and ruin to promote their vision–and won spectacular vindication.
We need more such men and women who are as good as Gold or else we risk having vital innovations stifled in miles of red tape–but such mold-breakers are hard to develop by definition. Therein lies a challenge that will be of great importance to the future of our armed forces.