After decades of rigorous research, Israel has reportedly built a high-powered laser gun called Iron Beam that can intercept and destroy rockets, mortar shells, drones, and anti-tank missiles. Although it’s still a prototype, the system performed successfully in a recent series of fire tests.
The science and other stuff to know
Over the years, laser weapons have moved from sci-fi movies and the gaming fantasy genre to reality. And the Iron Beam — developed by Israeli military defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems — is just one example of many weapons being developed in many countries.
“There is a lot of promising laser work going on,” said Thomas Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, in a statement to the New York Times. “This isn’t ‘Star Wars’ science fiction anymore.”
The Iron Beam is intended to complement, not replace, other elements of air defense systems, including the Iron Dome, which is a multi-purpose system that detects, assesses, and intercepts incoming artillery developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries. It features a laser gun on its swiveling unit, a surveillance system that detects incoming missiles, and a command unit.
While other missile interception systems fire small guided missiles to intercept incoming projectiles, the Iron Beam trains laser beams on a particular spot on the rocket, heating it up until it explodes.
Israel has been testing the defense system for several years and used it to shoot down a drone last year. The recent tests were reportedly the first to succeed against other threats such as unguided projectiles and anti-tank guided missiles, The Times of Israel reported. In a live fire test, the new system successfully destroyed a rocket, mortar shell, and drone within seconds of detection.
According to experts, Iron Beam can enhance protection against threats at a lower cost compared to other air defense systems.
“The laser is a game-changer thanks to its easily operated system and significant economic advantages,” Brigadier General Yaniv Rotem from the ministry’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development told Reuters.
It can also intercept drones and missile rockets faster than other rocket interceptors. This makes it more powerful and effective in neutralizing threats. The only drawback of the Iron Beam is that its effectiveness can be hampered by weather patterns, such as clouds and cold weather.
Professionals involved in developing the system say it’s still a few years away from being fully operational in the field. And Israel isn’t alone in working to perfect laser weapons. The U.S., U.K., Russia, China, and other countries also have similar programs.