A high-energy laser beam system, dubbed “Iron Beam,” was put into operation in early 2016 to complement the “Iron Dome” defense system. It is funded by the U.S. and the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
The laser system produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, of Haifa, Israel, has proven capable of destroying short-range rockets, artillery and mortars too small for the Iron Dome system to effectively intercept.
The system successfully has targeted mortar and artillery shells in more than 100 tests and engaged and destroyed small unmanned aerial vehicles.
Iron Beam uses a high-energy fiber optic laser to destroy airborne objects within four to five seconds of firing.
The major benefits of using a “directed energy weapon” over conventional missile interceptors, according to Raphael, are lower cost per shot, an unlimited magazine, lower operational costs and less manpower.
Current power levels are tens of kilowatts and are expected to be increased to hundreds of kilowatts with far greater destructive capability.
An Iron Beam battery is mobile and composed of an air defense radar, a command and control unit and two high-energy laser systems.
Boeing, a U.S. leader in the work on such systems, successfully shot down 150 drones, rockets and other mock enemy targets in a series of recent tests. According to Boeing, these tests prove the laser weapon is reliable and capable of consistently “acquiring, tracking and engaging a variety of targets in different environments.”
These aren’t the only contractors working to develop high-powered laser weapons. Raytheon recently was awarded an $11 million contract to build a vehicle-mounted laser device capable of shooting down low-flying enemy targets.
At a time when North Korea, Iran and other less than friendly nations seem bent on developing weapons of mass destruction, laser beam defense technology may provide needed protection for the United States and its allies, particularly because laser systems with far greater energy are on the drawing board.