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 has achieved the greatest success in the development and implementation of combat lasers in the short-range air defense system. In the period 1996-2005, both independently and within the framework of the Nautilus missile defense program jointly with the United States, they spent more than $ 300 million on the development of VEL. At the same time, during the tests of the first prototypes, significant problems were revealed in the energy intensity of lasers, the dependence of their firing efficiency on the hydrometeorological situation and in the complexity of hitting group targets, for example, after a NUR salvo from an MLRS. Another very big drawback - there was no mobility of laser equipment, which greatly influenced the territorial defense capabilities with its help.
After the US left the joint Nautilus program, the experience gained during its implementation allowed Israeli specialists to independently continue R&D under the MTHEL (Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser) program. Thanks to a large investment by the Israeli authorities, the laser "cannon" was perfected by 2007. The developed complex of laser weapons of the next generation has successfully passed tests, while ensuring guaranteed destruction of various targets at ranges of up to 2.0 km, including the ability of the new system to produce a series of shots at a group air target.
Israel initially planned to deploy the new missile shield known as "Iron Beam" in 2015. 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.
On 11 February 2014, at the Singapore Airshow, the first prototype of a laser anti-aircraft complex, designated Iron Beam, was presented at the exposition of the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd aerospace concern. All equipment of the complex is located in one autonomous module and can be used both stationary and placed on any wheeled or tracked chassis of vehicles of various types capable of transporting a standard ten-foot cargo container (standard 10 '× 8' ISO container), for which the module is equipped special mounts. As a means of destruction, a rotary system of low power solid-state lasers of about 10-15 kW is used.
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."
The Israeli Defense Ministry announced the acceptance of the complex into service and the deployment of the first laser battery "Iron Beam" on combat duty. It was planned that the new complexes will be deployed around important objects together with the Iron House air defense system to destroy UAVs, NURs and mortar ammunition at ranges of 2-4 kilometers, which existing ground-based air defense systems are not capable of effectively intercepting at such distances.
Economic considerations played an important role in the development and adoption of the system, since the Iron Beam is much easier to maintain and operate than anti-aircraft missile systems, and the cost per shot of a combat laser does not exceed $ 100.
At the same time, Rafael's specialists continue to refine and improve the new system, planning in the next 3-4 years to bring the power of the next generation VEL to 100 kW with an increase in the guaranteed interception range to 15-18 kilometers, and at the same time with a decrease in the cost of one shot to only 2 dollars.
Iron Beam is effective against projectiles at close range - even if we assuming it can engage 122mm rockets (fired ballistically) from 20–25km away effectively. While the laser can continue firing at as many targets as needed immediately, it is affected by weather because the laser beams work poorly in high dust and high fog/cloud levels.
The Iron Dome is a capable system that can use many types of missiles and ranges. Its missiles must be reloaded individually though after shooting. At the moment it can reliably intercept targets from 100km away and is said to be extended to intercept rockets from up to 250km away, overlapping with David Sling and providing a 2nd (and cheaper) layer to David Sling. So basically there is a large gap between the expensive David's Sling and the super cheap Iron Beam which the Iron Dome fills effectively and for a reasonable cost.
The Iron Beam system used 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”.
During Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, some analysts speculated that the main reason Israel agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with militant group Hamas was its supply of Iron Dome interceptor missiles was depleted.
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