Israel’s “Iron Beam” laser successfully downed rockets, drones and mortars

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Israel this week demonstrated what it says is the ability to take down incoming threats with its “Iron Beam” laser air defense system.

In a 103-second video posted online Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces demonstrated what it claims is the system that locks down and destroys rockets, mortars and a drone.

The Iron Beam is a trailer mounted system with a directed energy weapon. The skillfully produced video, complete with soundtrack, offers only a limited view of the entire system. Previously, breaking defense reported that Israel was developing a system firing “a 100-150 kW solid-state electric laser that will be capable of intercepting rockets and missiles.”

Israel says it successfully tested its Iron Beam laser air defense weapon in March. (Screen grab from Israeli Ministry of Defense video).

The Israeli brigadier. General Yaniv Rotem said the tests were carried out at “difficult” intervals and timeframes, according to the Israel time. “Using a laser is a ‘game changer’ and the technology is simple to use and proves to be economically viable,” he said.

One of the mortars destroyed by the Israeli Iron Beam system. (Screenshot from an Israeli MOD video).

The demonstration, developed as part of a collaboration between Israeli defense contractors Mapat and Rafael, featured “the interception of shrapnel, rockets, anti-tank missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, in a variety of complex scenarios,” according to the Israeli Defense Ministry. “Israel is one of the first countries in the world to successfully develop powerful laser technology into operational standards and demonstrate interception in an operational scenario.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was even more enthusiastic about the Iron Beam.

“This is the world’s first energy-based weapon system that uses a laser to shoot down incoming UAVs, rockets and mortars at a cost of $3.50 per shot,” Bennett said in a Tweet. Thursday. “It may sound like science fiction, but it’s real.”

Initially, Israel was looking to deploy the system in 2024, according to the Israel time. But his army has pushed to move the timeline forward over fears that Israel’s current layered air defense system will run out of interceptor missiles for its Iron Dome and other systems.

Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system in action.

This is a huge concern in Israel, which has used the Iron Dome and other systems to defend against rockets and drones from Gaza. It also faces the ever-present threat of drones and longer-range missiles fired from Lebanon by Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies.

GAZA, PALESTINE – 2021/05/27: Members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, display rockets during a military parade through the streets of Khan Yunis in the southern Strip from Gaza. (Photo by Yousef Masoud/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Hezbollah “is believed to maintain an arsenal of some 130,000 rockets, missiles and mortar shells, which the military says will be used against Israel in a future war,” according to The Times of Israel.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad “are also believed to each possess thousands of rockets and mortar shells, even after firing more than 4,000 projectiles into Israel during the 11-day war of last year,” the newspaper reported. The IDF also said “they have seen a growing trend of Iran’s use of attack drones in recent years, calling them ‘UAV terror’ of Iran.

SEMNAN, IRAN Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Mohammad Bagheri salutes the Iranian military’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) exercise in Semnan, Iran, January 5, 2021. ( Iranian Army Photo/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Concerns about projectile-based air defense systems have also been highlighted in Ukraine’s defense against the all-out Russian assault. Ukraine’s collection of mostly Soviet-era air defense systems, such as the S-300, succeeded in preventing Russia from gaining air superiority. But there are fears that the missiles they use are not available in inexhaustible supply. This is greatly magnified when it comes to C-RAM (counter rocket, artillery, mortar) and C-UAS (unmanned aircraft system) applications, where hordes of these relatively inexpensive threats can overwhelm and deplete Kinetic Interceptors. Saudi Arabia is already addressing this issue in its low-intensity conflict against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The cost-per-shot exchange rate is also wildly lopsided, with even multimillion-dollar Patriot missiles shooting down drones that only cost thousands of dollars.

Directed energy systems will help equalize this equation and even go further.

A year ago, the Israeli MOD announced the successful interception of several drones by a high-powered airborne laser weapon.

A high-powered Israeli laser system deployed on a Cessna 208 Caravan. (Screenshot from an Israeli MOD video).

It was hailed as “a strategic shift in the air defense capabilities of the State of Israel”, with the potential to bolster Israel’s multi-level integrated air defense system. You can read more about this test here.

The Iron Beam test comes as the US Navy announced it had also demonstrated an improved ability to strike an aerial threat with a laser.

In February, the Navy successfully tested its layered laser defense system, seen here hitting a target drone. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin).

A February demonstration of the layered laser defense system “marked the first time the U.S. Navy has used a high-energy all-electric laser weapon to defeat a subsonic cruise missile target in flight,” according to a press release. released Wednesday.

The Layered Laser Defense weapon was designed and built by Lockheed Martin. The goal is to “serve as a cross-domain, cross-platform demo system”.

The Navy says the LLD “can counter unmanned aerial systems and fast attack craft with a high-powered laser – and also use its high-resolution telescope to track incoming aerial threats, support combat identification, and perform a battle damage assessment of engaged targets.”

This downing of Navy drones by the LLD was part of a recent test sponsored by the Office of Naval Research at the US Army’s High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

“Innovative laser systems like LLD have the potential to redefine the future of naval combat operations,” Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Lorin C. Selby said in the press release. “They present transformative capabilities to the fleet, respond to various threats, and provide precision engagements with a deep loader to supplement existing defensive systems and enhance sustainable lethality in high-intensity conflict.”

Still, Iron Beam is meant to augment, not replace, kinetic systems like the Iron Dome.

Although there is expected to be a high initial price on the ground, the upside, the Israelis say, is that the cost of fending off threats will then be minimal. And reduce fears that an incoming barrage will deplete reserves of interceptor missiles.

But there is another concern, Israel acknowledges.

The laser systems don’t perform as well in heavy cloud cover and other adverse weather conditions, Israel’s MOD said at the time.

“We can only shoot with a laser what we can see,” Rotem told The Times of Israel last year.

This, along with a number of limitations, which you can read about here, still restrict what lasers can do on the battlefield. But augmenting Iron Dome alone and providing infinite magazine depth is certainly a major achievement that will bolster Israel’s resilience against the growing threat from rockets and drones.

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