Israel to develop new laser-based Iron Beam

The current attack exposes the limitations of the Iron Dome system, which has been in service for 12 years and boasts a success rate of 90%. The system was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of rockets fired in a short span, renewing debates about its cost-effectiveness. Each Iron Dome interceptor missile costs thousands of dollars, making it an expensive option for countering rockets that cost only a few hundred dollars.
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Israel is working on the development of Iron Beam, a laser-based system that aims to be more economically efficient. The system is designed to intercept missiles, rockets, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). (Picture source: Lockheed Martin)

The Iron Dome, generally reliable for air defense, was overwhelmed by the barrage of rockets fired by Hamas. The group exploited a weakness in the system by launching a salvo rocket attack—multiple rockets fired in quick succession—making it difficult for the system to intercept all targets. This tactic was largely successful, as over 5,000 rockets were launched in just 20 minutes. Hamas has continually developed its rudimentary rocket technology and increased its range to cover major Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem.

The Iron Dome is designed to destroy 97% of incoming projectiles, but it can't neutralize everything. During the previous aggression in May, only 24 out of a hundred rockets fired simultaneously from Gaza could be intercepted. This weekend, the terrorist group employed the same method but with a higher density of rockets.

Developed by Israeli Defense company Rafael in collaboration with the United States, the Iron Dome is a mobile defense solution designed to counter short-range rockets and 155 mm artillery shell threats with ranges of up to 70 km in all weather conditions. The system comprises three fundamental elements: detection and tracking radar, battle management, and weapon control system (BMC), along with a missile firing unit (MFU) with 20 ready-to-fire container launchers. The radar system EL/M-2084 has been developed by Israeli defense company Elta, and the control system has been built by Israeli software company mPrest Systems.

As an alternative, Israel is working on the development of Iron Beam, a laser-based system that aims to be more economically efficient. The system is designed to intercept missiles, rockets, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) at a cost of approximately $3.5 per shot. Unlike the Iron Dome, which uses expensive missiles for interception, Iron Beam employs directed energy technology. The system requires tracking the target with a laser until it is destroyed, limiting its ability to intercept multiple targets with a single unit.

Last year, Israeli authorities announced accelerated deployment plans for these new laser-based missile interceptors. The initial plan was to start experimental use this year, followed by operational deployment, initially in the southern part of the country, which is the area recently attacked.

The long-term vision for Iron Beam is ambitious. Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stated last year that the new weapon would allow Israel to be surrounded by a "laser wall" that would protect against missiles, rockets, UAVs, and other threats. This would effectively neutralize what he termed as "the strongest card that the enemy has against us."

In the wake of these attacks, Israel has also officially requested advanced missile interceptors, precision-guided munitions, and artillery shells from the U.S. Department of Defense, confirmed by a U.S. government source on October 9, 2023. Israel aims to replenish its Iron Dome system amid the ongoing conflict with Hamas. The precision-guided weapons requested typically use satellites or lasers to direct explosives accurately, thereby reducing collateral damage.

The U.S. official also indicated that ongoing American military support for Israel could be bundled with aid for Ukraine, Taiwan, and domestic disaster relief efforts. The U.S. maintains a stockpile of ammunition in Israel for potential conflicts in the Middle East and Europe, including Ukraine's defense against Russian aggression. Israel has the option to access this stockpile with U.S. approval.