WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The future of warfare will include laser weapons and many sci-fi fans will rejoice …
Rafael has successfully tested its Iron Beam laser weapon in various scenarios against steep-track threats, including UAVs, mortars, rockets, and anti-tank missiles, and soon the new weapon system will complement Israel’s famous Iron Dome aerial defense system.
With its ability to intercept incoming missiles using anti-missiles guided by a sophisticated radar tracking system, Iron Dome has chalked up a remarkable success rate in recent Middle Eastern conflicts. But it has a number of drawbacks. The missiles that are the heart of the system cost over $100,000 per shot and it has trouble with incoming threats at close ranges under 4 km (2.5 miles).
A counter to hypersonic weapons? Maybe in the future …
In contrast, Iron Beam is an optical fiber laser that can lock onto targets at the speed of light and destroy them within five seconds at a range of up to 7 km (4.3 miles). How powerful the laser is hasn’t been released, but it’s projected to soon be in the range of hundreds of kilowatts. In addition, each laser round costs about a dollar a shot, not counting hardware costs, and the ammunition is unlimited as long as electricity is available.
The recent tests are part of the first phase of a program extending over several years by Rafael, other private companies and the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) to produce high-energy lasers that can be ground- or air-based and are capable of handling multiple threats in conjunction with Iron Dome.
“The completion of these innovative tests using a high-power laser is just the beginning of our vision,” said Head of R&D at (DDR&D) Brigadier General Yaniv Rotem. “This is the first time we’ve succeeded in intercepting mortars, rockets, and UAVs from such challenging ranges and time intervals. 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.”