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Iron Beam Laser Defense System

The Defense Ministry released a video demonstrating the capability of the “Iron Beam,” (Hebrew: קֶרֶן בַּרְזֶל, keren barzel) laser-based defense system. During a test conducted in March 2022 in the Negev desert, the system is shown intercepting a rocket, a mortar, and a drone.

The ministry has been evaluating the system for several years, shooting down a drone with it in 2021. The March tests were the first to be successful against the other threats, including unguided projectiles and anti-tank-guided missiles.

The laser, which is designed to shoot down smaller targets, is meant to complement Israel’s other missile defense systems – the short-range Iron Dome, the medium-range David’s Sling, and the long-range Arrow and Patriot systems – which are meant to intercept larger projectiles.

The main benefits of using a directed energy weapon over conventional missile interceptors are lower costs per shot, an unlimited number of firings, lower operational costs, and less manpower. There is also no interceptor debris to fall on the area protected. 

“This may sound like science fiction, but it’s real,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “The Iron Beam’s interceptions are silent, they’re invisible and they only cost around $3.50” apiece, he added. By comparison Iron Dome missile interceptors each cost $100,000 to $150,000.

The system has one significant limitation; it does not function well in low visibility, so the system will also be mounted on aircraft to fly above the clouds.

The head of the ministry’s research and development team, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yaniv Rotem said, “The use of a laser is a ‘game changer’ and the technology is simple to operate and proves to be economically viable.”

The United States believes the system may be useful to the army and the Biden administration asked for $1.2 billion to assist in its development. The funds were held up as of December 8, 2023, due to congressional disagreements over the larger aid packages of which it is a part.

Sources: Laurie Kellman, “Israel successfully tests new laser missile defense system,” AP, (April 14, 2022).
Emanuel Fabian, “In ‘game changer,’ Israeli laser-based air defense shoots down drones,” Times of Israel, (April 14, 2022).
“Iron Beam,” Wikipedia.
Dean Shmuel Elmas, “US to invest $1.2b in Rafael's Iron Beam laser system,” Globes, (November 16, 2023).

Photo: Screenshot from video.