The Israeli Ministry of Defense and Israeli company Rafael have successfully completed a series of ground-breaking tests with its “Iron Beam” laser air defense system against steep-track threats for the first time in the world. The demonstrator successfully intercepted UAVs, mortars, rockets, and anti-tank missiles in various scenarios.
Rafael’s Iron Beam system provides Israel with a capability unlike one seen elsewhere in the world by successfully developing a high-power laser technology at an operational standard with operational interception capabilities. The company says the high-power laser interception system will complement the “Iron Dome” system and will be an effective and economically efficient addition to Israel’s multi-tiered air defense array.
The Iron Dome air defense system is designed to intercept and destroy incoming threats at close ranges under 4 km (2.5 miles). The missiles that are the heart of the system cost over US$100,000 per shot.
In contrast, the Iron beam uses a fiber laser to destroy an airborne target within 4-5 seconds of firing and has a range of up to 7 km (4.3 miles). In 2016 laser power levels were reported to be “tens of kilowatts,” with increases planned to hundreds of kW. Also, the coat of each interception is negligible, unlike expensive missile interceptors – around US$2,000 per shot to cover all costs.
The recent tests are part of the first phase of a multi-year program led by Rafael, other private companies, and the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D). The program aims to develop a high-power ground and aerial laser system equipped to deal with long-range, high-intensity threats in conjunction with Iron Dome.
“The completion of these innovative tests using a high-power laser is just the beginning of our vision. This is the first time we’ve succeeded in intercepting mortars, rockets, and UAVs from such challenging ranges and time intervals,” said Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, Head of R&D at the DDR&D in the Ministry of Defense. “The laser is a game-changer thanks to its easily operated system and significant economic advantages. The next step is to continue the development and initial system deployment within Israel. Our plan is to station multiple laser transmitters along Israel’s borders throughout the next decade. We will continue to simultaneously develop advanced capabilities, including the aerial laser.”