Israel to operate Iron Beam laser-based defense system within a year to tackle rocket attacks from Gaza

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India, portal publishing news and current affairs. He holds an M.B.A in International Business from the Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA. Twitter: @chackojoseph *views are Personal.

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett revealed that the Israeli Army would deploy a laser-based air defense system for intercepting drones, missiles, and UAVs within one year. 

According to the Israeli KAN news channel, Bennett announced it at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) annual international conference.

The new system is slated to be deployed in the southern part to tackle rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. He said the system would be pitched to friendly countries against threats from Iran and its proxies.

Artist impression of ground based Iron Beam lasers system to shoot drones
Artist impression of ground based Iron Beam lasers system to shoot drones

In January 2020, the Israeli Defense Ministry said it developed a laser interception system against rockets after decades of multiple failed attempts. The ministry said the development was made possible by an unspecified “technological breakthrough.” 

Israeli company Rafael is developing the system. The system has a ground-based version and an air version based on a universal combat laser module. In 2021, after the test of the air based laser, Brigadier General Yaniv Rotem, head of the Department of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), said the “air” version will not be able to replace the “Iron Dome”, “David’s Sling”, or “Arrow”. He said that the system would effectively complement the air defense systems, knocking down smaller targets.

The project, known as ‘Iron Beam’ uses a fibre laser to destroy an airborne target within 4–5 seconds of firing. 

On the cost benefit, Rotem said, “each laser launch will cost about a dollar, not counting the cost of the system, compared to the tens of thousands of dollars that each Iron Dome interceptor missile costs.”

THEL –  Tactical High-Energy Laser, a US-Israel laser project, cancelled in 2005
THEL – Tactical High-Energy Laser, a US-Israel laser project, cancelled in 2005

Israeli MoD said the Iron Beam could make infinite interceptions if it was connected to electricity. The Iron Dome, which is equipped with a limited number of interceptor Tamir anti-missiles. The laser emitter is said to be powerful enough to destroy unmanned aerial vehicles, improvised unguided rockets, mortar mines and tactical ballistic missiles. According to Israeli engineers, the high efficiency of the development is due to the fact that the developers used a special lens system in it, with the help of which it became possible to accurately focus the laser beam on distant targets, despite atmospheric disturbances.

Ground based lasers

The innovative combat laser module can be installed on several types of military equipment. Last year the developers presented a ground based anti-aircraft laser system installed on a trailer with a control unit. The module, among other things, will be able to protect them from anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers. The solution can be installed on main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and armoured vehicles.

Technical details about the combat laser module have not yet been disclosed. However, based on the demo videos, it can be assumed that the system will operate in a semi-autonomous mode under the control of remote operators giving the go-ahead to open fire, providing a quick response to various types of threats.

This system can also be installed on UAV’s in case of scenarios where there are limitations on the ground based systems. 

Air-based anti-drone laser

In June 2021, the Defense Research and Development Department of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, together with Elbit Systems and the Israeli Air Force, had conducted successful tests to intercept UAVs using an airborne high-powered laser weapon system (HPL-WS). The interception of the UAV was carried out at various ranges and flight altitudes. The combat laser was installed aboard a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan light single-engine aircraft. 

During the experiment, the laser tracked and fired at a small UAV. A few seconds later, under the influence of a laser beam, the UAV went out of control. The laser beam destroyed the UAV in the junction of the wing and fuselage area. Other details of the experiment were not disclosed. The Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft was sent to locate and shoot down an unspecified number of UAVs — fewer than 10.

It is reported that such a system can operate at a distance of up to one kilometre. During the tests, the interception of the UAV during the tests was carried out at various ranges and flight altitudes. All UAVs launched during the tests were successfully intercepted and destroyed.

Laser interception system on a  Cessna Grand Caravan test aircraft
Laser interception system on a Cessna Grand Caravan test aircraft. Israeli MoD

The system also has no weather restrictions. Its work is fully automated controlled by artificial intelligence, and the response time is a few seconds. 

The test was the first stage of a multi-year program to develop a laser system to protect against various long-range threats.

Brigadier General Yaniv Rotem said the “system will eventually be able to shoot down drones at a distance of several tens of kilometres, and possibly more.”

The Ministry of Defense clarified that this is only the first series of tests. It represents the beginning of a multi-year program to develop a laser system to protect against various threats at long range.

According to Yaniv Rotem, it will take another 3 to 4 years of work to create a fully functional prototype of a combat solid-state laser installed on an aircraft.

Israel currently operates various short, medium and long-range air defense systems. The Iron Dome is designed to shoot down short-range rockets and drones; the Arrow system intercepts ballistic missiles outside of the Earth’s atmosphere; and David’s Sling missile defense system that is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles.

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