You’ve seen Israel’s Iron Dome in action, but what if the Iron Dome added lasers that would allow the Israelis to fry incoming rockets and missiles? That’s what Israel is seeking – to completely augment the Iron Dome air defense system with directed energy blasts to shoot down enemy projectiles. That project has been dubbed ‘Iron Beam’.
What Is Iron Beam?
The system is called Iron Beam and the Israelis have sped up development because there are some political forces in the United States that want to stop funding the Iron Dome. Israel wants more independent and home-grown innovations that will improve missile and rocket defense.
Original concepts about the Iron Beam were hatched in the 2000s. The system has actually been around since 2014 and was officially introduced in 2020, but it is not fully operational. Now Israel wants to make it a priority and get more Iron Beam batteries that could be integrated not only with Iron Dome, but longer-range air defenders such as Arrow 2, Arrow 3, and David’s Sling.
Iron Beam uses twin fiber-optic lasers. It has a range of 4.3 miles. The system can eliminate shorter-range missiles, rockets, drones, and mortar rounds. Iron Beam-directed energy can burn a target in four to five seconds. It’s road-mobile as well.
Why Iron Beam? The Iron Dome Has Weaknesses
The impetus behind Iron Beam is that Iron Dome can be overwhelmed. To be sure, the Iron Dome has successfully eliminated over 2,500 incoming projectiles over the last ten years. But it has weaknesses.
The Iron Dome does poorly when confronted by a “saturation” strike. There’s a maximum number of targets it can track at any given time. If Hamas increases the number of rockets fired, the Iron Dome could become exhausted.
The Iron Dome uses Tamir interceptors and the number of these is limited – only 20 per launcher. Sometimes it takes more than one Tamir to shoot down an incoming rocket or missile.
Plus, the Tamirs are expensive. They cost an estimated $40,000 to $50,000 each. Other estimates say taking out a target could cost as much as $150,000 for the Iron Dome. Alternatively, the Iron Beam has unlimited shots and they are cheaper – at around $2,000 each.
Also, it should be noted that Iron Dome has trouble with rockets coming from shorter distances, which the Iron Beam can handle better.
Time to Speed Up the Deployment
The Iron Dome gets some funding from the United States and there were grumblings from a few Members of Congress that appropriations for the missile defense systems should be axed. Even though the House of Representatives eventually approved the expenditure by a wide margin, the Israel Defense Forces took notice. War planners want to speed up the Iron Beam and have it fully deployed by 2022. The Iron Beam would then be set up near the border with Gaza.
If the Iron Beam works, the Israelis have a jewel in their rocket-defense crown. It solves problems with range, number of interceptors, and cost. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems said testing has revealed that Iron Beam lasers are knocking out more than 90 percent of their targets. But it has taken years of research and development.
Clearly, Israel should refrain from rushing too fast into deployment without fully completing testing. The future of the system looks good though. Perhaps this new rocket defense platform will give Star Wars a new sequel.
1945’s new Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.