The first round of this fight ended with a knockout from the “traditional” anti-rocket interceptor – but the lights in the ring were not turned off.
When rockets were launched into Israel from Lebanon in the 1980s it became obvious that a defence system was needed – and fast.
The first initiative was based on using a laser beam to shoot down the rockets. An Israeli-American joint effort resulted in the “Nautilus” demonstrator, but not in a weapon system. It was huge and used a chemical laser – a combination that buried the programme.
The supporters of the laser did almost everything to undermine the efforts based on a government decision to develop a defence system that would use missiles to intercept the incoming rockets.
The rest is history, and the Rafael Iron Dome system intercept rockets launched from Gaza almost every week.
But the magic of a laser weapon persisted, and Rafael – which developed the operational Iron Dome and is developing the longer-range David’s Sling interceptor – is now working on “Iron Beam”, a laser-based rocket interceptor.
According to the Israeli company, Iron Beam is a mobile high-energy laser weapon system which destroys airborne and ground-based targets by irradiation with a directed high-energy laser beam. It is designed for operation as a standalone system or part of air-defence system at day or night.
The magic of the “Death Ray” is reflected in the description of the planned system: “It will enable delivery of scalable levels of energy at tactical and strategic distances while generating entirely new [effects on] the battlefield”.
Compared to traditional weapons, laser weapons offer significant benefits, including minimal collateral damage, long-range force application capabilities, lethal target effects, potentially unlimited ammunition and a significantly smaller logistic footprint than non-directed energy weapon systems. Rafael also stresses the lower operational costs and lower manpower requirements, due to automated battle management systems using state-of-the-art electronics.
The Israeli company explains that the Iron Beam will destroy a target either by heating its the surface to the weakening point and causing it to fail under operating stress, or by burning through the skin to destroy underlying critical components and/or subsystems.
So the dream lives on, and now scientists will have to make it happen. Rafael loves a challenge (the Iron Dome was developed in less than three years) – and this is a big one.