Iron Beam: Israel’s laser defense system that could change everything

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“It may sound like science fiction, but it’s real.” Israeli President Naftali Bennet’s disclaimer aptly describes the Jewish state’s new Iron Beam laser interception system. Last month, Israel’s Defense Ministry announced the successful launch of its laser missile defense system, capable of intercepting rockets, mortars and anti-tank missiles. This “game-changing” The technology, developed by Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, is the world’s first energy-based missile defense system that uses a laser beam to silently shoot down incoming attacks.

Reminiscent of former US President Ronald Regan’s Star Wars program, this groundbreaking system will be the fifth element of Israel’s integrated air defense system. The Iron Beam is expected to enter service in 2023, unquestionably elevating the Jewish state’s defense system.

After the Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the need for Israel to develop advanced defensive measures to counter its hostile neighbors became a priority for the IDF. In the early 2000s, Palestinian militants began launching rockets aimed at Israel from the Gaza area, increasing the desire for sophisticated air defense technology. The an iron dome system was conceptualized to meet this specification. The all-weather mobile air defense system can effectively thwart rocket and missile attacks with a 90% success rate, making it the most sophisticated defense system in the world.

First deployed during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, the Dome successfully intercepted a rocket launched from Gaza. Over the past decade, the critical defense system has saved hundreds of thousands of Israeli lives. The Dome also downplays the spread of the conflict, because without its interceptions, the IDF would likely respond to more deadly attacks with greater aggression, leading to increased casualties in Gaza.

While Israel’s Iron Dome arguably represents the backbone of the country’s air defense program, it has its drawbacks. First of all, the Dome is extremely Dear operate. Each intercept costs around $100,000 to $150,000. In the last outbreak of Hamas-Israel violence in 2021, militants launched more than 4,300 rockets and unguided mortars towards Israel. Although the Iron Dome effectively intercepted 90% of the barrage, it was a very expensive defense. The second downside of the Dome is its susceptibility to swarm tactics. Over the years, militants in Gaza have discovered how to exploit the Dome with saturated strikes from closer locations that exceed its capabilities. These two drawbacks have posed a serious problem for the IDF, and the Iron Beam may be the exact complement needed for rectification.

While Rafael Advanced Defense Systems initially unveiled its Iron Beam prototype at the 2014 Singapore Airshow, the design for it technically originated years earlier. In 1983, the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) was created in the United States during the Reagan administration for the sole purpose of overseeing the development of a missile defense program in America. This Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), called “Star Wars,” encompassed the study of a variety of advanced weapon concepts, including lasers. However, deficiencies in the power of the lasers available at the time made the technology impractical for use in missile defense.

A few years later, in 1995, an American-Israeli collaborative project produced the Nautilus High Energy Tactical Laser (THEL). The system successfully shot down 28 Katyusha rockets and other artillery shells in test launches, but was ultimately deemed unusable due to the drawbacks of the laser, including expensive maintenance and sensitivity to atmospheric conditions. The Nautilus project was canceled within a year, but the goal of creating an effective laser beam system remained a core mission for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

In 2014, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems released its state-of-the-art missile shield dubbed Iron Beam. Designed to destroy short-range rockets, artillery and other mortars too small for the Iron Dome to intercept effectively, this one-of-a-kind technology provides a much-needed additional layer to Israel’s security apparatus. The Shine will use a “directed high-energy laser beam” to take out hostile targets with ranges up to 4.3 miles. The IDF intends to develop the laser with a power of 100 kilowatts, which will allow the system to detect drones up to a maximum range of 20 km.

While the Beam will complement Israel’s pillared defense system, it can also operate as a stand-alone system. Compared to the Iron Dome’s ultra-high intercept cost, the Beam will barely fire $2 per intercept. Moreover, the low cost of the beam will allow the IDF to deploy them in large numbers, making Gaza’s strategy of overwhelming the Dome with a barrage of attacks a moot point.

In recent years, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East have threatens The borders of Israel with rockets, mortars and various artillery shells. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) spends millions of dollars to fund, equip and train its regional militias to attack Israel. Explain by President Bennett, the Beam “will allow us (the IDF), in the medium to long term, to surround Israel with a laser wall that protects us from missiles, rockets, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and ‘other threats’. He added: “In fact, it will take away the strongest card the enemy has against us…we will have canceled the ring of fire that Iran has set up on our borders. Everything will no longer be chargeable. »

While the introduction of the Iron Beam will undoubtedly be an unprecedented step for the Israeli state, its current long-term viability has worried some industry experts. According to Jerusalem-based analyst Seth Frantzman, the Beam possesses “a technology that has been worked on for many years, usually without success.” He explained that until the Beam is operationally tested on long-endurance drones, its expected debut in the IDF will not be as imminent as President Bennet claims.

Whether the Iron Beam enters service with the IDF in 2023 or a few years from now, its unique attributes will be unmatched around the world. The Beam’s technology will complement the already strong defense pillars of the Jewish state.

Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst at the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has lines in numerous publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel.

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