Israel's Iron Dome rocket interceptor does not work on short-range missiles, though a companion system called "Iron Beam" (a provisional name) was developed to shoot down mortar shells. Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems dubbed the new laser-based missile defense system "Iron Beam" - a play on the currently-active Iron Dome missile defense system. While Iron Dome launches radar-guided interceptor rockets - the new weapon uses fast-acting radars and laser beams to superheat the warheads of incoming rockets and mortar shells with ranges of up to 7 km.
Israel plans to deploy the new missile shield known as "Iron Beam" in 2015. Iron Beam was first unveiled formally by state-owned Rafael during the Singapore Air Show on 11 February 2014. In 2006 the Ministry of Defense alerted industry to the need for development of a system to provide active defense from short-range, high-trajectory fire, and teams were established to research the feasibility of this initiative.
The Iron Beam system uses a solid-state laser, which is different from the other missile defense systems that had been offered to Israel in the past, which were based on chemical laser technology. US-based Northrop Grumman’s Nautilus and Skyguard systems are both based on chemical lasers.
The Iron Beam high energy laser defense system is designed to function as the innermost layer of Israel’s many-layer missile defense architecture, intercepting mortars, rockets and airborne threats with trajectories too short for Iron Dome. In addition to the Iron Beam and Iron Dome, Israel continues to develop the David's Sling to defend against short-to-medium range ballistic missiles, and the Arrow 3, which can destroy long-range ballistic missiles in space.
The mobile Iron Beam battery consists of an air defence radar, a command and control (C2) unit, and two HEL systems. The Rafael-supplied depiction of the truck-mounted battery shows these various components housed in ISO shipping containers, although the actual configuration of the Iron Beam would depend on the customer’s requirements. It could just as easily be fitted to an armored vehicle or some other configuration.
Once the Iron Beam’s air defence radar (any radar will suffice) acquires an incoming projectile, a thermal camera takes over the tracking until it is engaged simultaneously by two HELs. The system uses two lasers to provide the power needed to overcome atmospheric interference and physically destroy the target, which it does by focusing the beams on an area “about the size of a coin”.
The new air defense system being developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which uses lasers to shoot down low altitude threats, is able to bring down "mortars like flies," Rafael's CEO told the Israel Defense website in April 2014. Vice Admiral (Ret.) Yedidia Yaari, former chief of the Israel Navy, said the Iron Beam system will be "very effective" once it becomes operational. Israel Defense cited Yaari as saying that that Iron Beam successfully passed a feasibility test, and is currently in development stages. Iron Beam fires lasers at mortar shells, and has proven a high rate of accuracy, Yaari said, describing the system as "highly impressive."
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