A laser-based missile shield that evokes “Star Wars” technology is moving closer to becoming a reality deployed over Israel, according to the state-owned arms company that is developing it.
Manufacturer’s impression of the Iron Beam engaging an inbound projectile – Photo: Rafael
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems said the development of the Iron Beam system was advanced enough for the company to be comfortable with publicizing it at this week’s Singapore Airshow, Asia’s largest aerospace and defense exhibition.
The laser technology behind the missile shield is not far removed from fiction.
“It’s exactly like what you see in Star Wars,” said company spokesman Amit Zimmer. “You see the lasers go up so quickly, like a flash, and the target is finished.”
Iron Beam is designed to intercept close-range drones, rockets and mortars which may not remain in the air long enough for Israel’s current Iron Dome missile defense system to intercept.
Iron Dome batteries have shot down hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip at Israeli cities. With no peace deal in sight and also threatened by Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel wants to beef up that system and develop further protection.
Avnish Patel, an expert in military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, said Iron Beam is potentially an effective addition to Israel’s defenses, rather than a drastic change.
“Essentially, its military and tactical utility will be particularly useful in complementing the already proven Iron Dome system in tackling very short-range threats such as rockets and mortar fire and in close quarter engagements,” he said.
Rafael said test data was showing that Iron Beam lasers hit more than 90 percent of their targets. The new system can also be modified so that multiple lasers can be used to hit a target, according to the company. But officials remain tight-lipped as to when and how the Iron Beam will be deployed.
Zimmer, the company spokesman, said it took 15 engineers about five years to work on the technology involving solid-state lasers. It works by shooting laser beams at targets which are heated so rapidly they disintegrate instantly.
“It’s very accurate and will help avoid collateral damage,” Zimmer said at the company’s booth at the airshow exhibition hall. “When you use lasers, you have an unlimited magazine.”
Besides Iron Beam and Iron Dome, Israel is also developing the next phase of its Arrow system, which can intercept missiles in space, and the upcoming David’s Sling, which shoots down short- and midrange ballistic missiles.
Rafael would not comment on how much Iron Beam would cost or how much has been invested in it so far.
“It’s very hard to say. We’re still testing and it can be modified in many different ways,” Zimmer said.
Other nations and private companies may be keen on using the laser-based technology to protect themselves against attacks.