Rafael is developing a high-energy laser-based weapon system to supplement its Iron Dome Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) system, offering a more affordable method to engage salvos of rockets and mortars fired at short range.

“The Iron Beam weapon system enables delivery of scalable levels of energy at tactical and strategic distances while generating an entirely new effect in the battlefield,” a Rafael official told Aviation Week’s ShowNews. The new weapon system will also be able to defeat enemy unmanned aerial vehicles while avoiding damaging friendly aircraft and UAVs. It is expected to mature in three years, providing the Israel Defense Forces with the first implementation of the futuristic high-energy weapon.

Rafael is not officially unveiling the system here but is releasing preliminary data. “Iron Beam is another element in our family of air-defense/C-RAM systems,” says Joseph Horowitz, director of marketing and business development at its Air Superiority Systems Division. “The system employs a solid-state, high-power laser weapon, designed to engage targets at very short range,” he says. As a “clean” weapon system, Iron Beam is designed to cause minimal collateral and environmental damage and pose no risk to friendly air traffic around the target.

The laser-based interceptor will offer a “cost per shot” below that of cannons, providing a highly affordable complement to other defense systems such as those maintained by Israel’s Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 systems. While the costs per shot of guided interceptors range in the tens of thousands to millions of dollars, Rafael claims that of Iron Beam will be negligible, calculating the fuel cost for electrical power generation. Highlighting affordability, the entire system also is designed to offer reduced life-cycle costs.

Rafael has been developing solid-state lasers for many years, supported by seed funding from Israel’s Directorate of Defense Research & Development, as the company has been leading this area in Israel, positioned as the national technological center for such systems. In recent years Rafael has elevated this research into system development and integration. During recent restructuring the system received even more attention, realigned with other air defense systems under the new Air Superiority Systems Division.