by Arie Egozi
Developing Israel’s high-power laser guns is a long fight between two groups of senior scientists focusing on air defense systems.
While one thinks that intercepting rockets with another very sophisticated rocket is not efficient enough and very costly, the other supports that method of interception, like the Israeli-developed Iron Dome and David’s Sling, deployed by the IDF.
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The first group has been very active for years promoting a laser-based air defense system – a laser gun with a beam that will “burn” the incoming rocket. The defense establishment for years ignored the laser supporters but in recent months these dedicated supports are smiling.
An imminent threat results in ways to tackle it. That happened when the Hamas terror organization in Gaza, enhanced the rocket launch into Israel. The Israeli defense industry went into an accelerated development process and that resulted in fielding the first Rafael Iron Dome air defense system.
This system achieved a 90% kill rate. But in May 2021, during the recent “Guardian of the walls” confrontation with Hamas, the threat changed its intensity in the form of rocket salvos, many rockets launched simultaneously to try and penetrate the defensive systems. This without any doubt will add a laser weapon to the currently used Israeli rocket interceptors.
The Iron Dome was used and saved many lives in Israel. But 2000 rockets that were launched most of the time in salvos, resulted in a dwindling stock of Tamir interceptors used by the Iron Dome.
The U.S has been asked for a $1 billion special grant to help Israel replenish the stock. This request has not been approved yet.
At the same time, the Israeli ministry of defense made a decision to push forward with the development of a laser gun that will be an add-on to the Iron Dome.
When the decision to develop the Iron Dome was made some 15 years ago, the supporters of laser rocket interceptors were pushed aside.
Now the situation has changed, as it is clear that in future wars between the Israeli defense forces (IDF) and the Hamas in Gaza and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, the salvos will be bigger and rockets more accurate and with larger warheads.
So now some of the major Israeli defense industries are working hard to develop the add-on laser system that will complement the Iron Dome.
In recent months, Israel aerospace industries (IAI) and Rafael, are working hard to accelerate the development of a laser system that can shoot down rockets.
According to IAI, a prototype of a laser cannon for intercepting rockets is in a very advanced stage of development, and successful experiments have already been carried out.
In recent years, the defense industries in Israel and the United States have been working to develop a laser-based defense system, which is considered to be the one that will change the battlefield. A few years ago, Rafael presented the first model of a laser gun called an “iron beam” designed to respond to shells fired from a range of up to 5 miles from the border.
The U.S Army and the IDF understand that this system has additional advantages over missile-based defense systems, since its arsenal of ammunition never ends, and the cost of shooting a laser beam is very low compared with an Iron Dome interception missile that is estimated to cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The Iron Dome and the David’s Sling systems are now deployed on both borders to protect against the rockets, but sources say that in case of massive rocket attacks, the need will arise, to launch more than one interceptor, and this will be stretch the Israeli arsenal to a critical point.
Earlier this year, the first test connected to the new development efforts was performed by the ministry of defense and Elbit, one of Israel’s big defense companies. While this test was made against a growing threat in the form of armed drones, it is part of the overall effort.
The high-power laser was carried by a Cessna light aircraft, and during the test, the system detected and intercepted some types of UAVs. According to the Israeli ministry of defense, It successfully intercepted and destroyed all of the UAVs that were launched throughout the test.
“The capability that has been proven is without any doubt groundbreaking and a strategic change in the air defense capabilities of the State of Israel.” A ministry source said.
He added that the “game-changing” series of tests were conducted in a testing field in the center of Israel, in close cooperation with the Israeli airforce.
The source pointed out that Israel’s high-power laser guns system will complement. The industry experts said that the main challenge now is to develop an electric laser gun with an output of 1 KW that is needed to kill rockets.