Lasers are out of science fiction – what is Iron Beam, the new air defense system that Israel has just tested


New Delhi: Rockets, mortars, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – a deadly barrage is launched into the desert skies, only for each to be intercepted and destroyed. By a laser beam. It’s a scene straight out of a sci-fi epic — complete with triumphant orchestral score to match — but, as Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, “it’s real.”

On Thursday, Bennett tweeted a video to declare that Israel had successfully tested its new Iron Beam laser interception air defense system.

Bennett described the Iron Beam – billed as a “game changerfor Israel’s Air Defense Systems – as “the world’s first energy-based weapons system that uses a laser to shoot down incoming UAVs, rockets and mortars at a cost of $3.50 per shoot”.

When commissioned, the Iron Beam, which has been in the works for more than a decade, is supposed to be integrated into Israel’s multi-pronged air defenses, acting as a force multiplier to enhance their effectiveness. According to reportsit will complement existing systems, including the highly publicized an iron domewhich uses missiles to intercept incoming rockets.

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Accelerated project

Originally, the Iron Beam was to be integrated into Israel’s defenses in 2024. However, concerns over the availability of interceptor missiles for the Iron Dome and other systems during times of conflict have prompted Israel to accelerate its development.

To do this, Benny Gantz, the Israeli Minister of Defense, approved significant funding in March 2022. The post of Jerusalem reported that the funding would be in the hundreds of millions of shekels. (One shekel is currently around Rs 23.76.)

The production ramp-up program will be led by the Defense Ministry’s Research and Development Directorate, in partnership with defense conglomerate Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Elbit Systems, two Israeli companies. Elbit is the infrastructure provider for laser systems.

Although there is little information available regarding its performance, range and operational standards, the Iron Beam is expected to be deployed on land, at sea and in the air. The goal is to deploy it across borders to offset and deter any aerial threat the country faces.

The head of research and development at the Israeli Defense Ministry, Brigadier General (Res.) Yaniv Rotem, said Israel’s time that the tests were carried out at “difficult beaches and times”. The tests reportedly took place at an undisclosed location in Israel’s Negev desert in March 2022.

Praising the Iron Beam, Rotem said, “Using a laser is a game-changer, and the technology is simple to use and proves to be economically viable.”

In development since the early 2000s

However, the Iron Beam is not an entirely new concept, nor is the technology behind energy-based weapons new or futuristic.

According to the defense reportsIsrael has been planning a laser-based air defense system since the early 2000s.

Israel wanted an alternative to the Iron Dome; however, the dome was prioritized as it was realized that laser technology was not a cost effective instrument at the time.

Rafael began working on a laser-based defense prototype in 2009. In 2014, the company presented an early version of the Iron Beam at the Singapore Air Show.

At the time, Reuters had reported that Israel planned to deploy the Iron Beam as part of its air defense systems in 2015. Seven years later, it has been tested and appears close to deployment now.

However, some reports suggest that the Iron Beam has a very limited range, making it ineffective against long-range targets. But the beam is claimed to be useful in deterring short-range threats and countering saturation strikes.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

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