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 entirely new effects in the battlefield,” a Rafael official told Aviation Week.
The new weapon system also will be able to defeat enemy unmanned aerial vehicles while avoiding damage to friendly aircraft and UAVs.
The new technology, currently at TRL-6, is expected to mature in three years, providing the Israel Defense Forces with the first implementation of futuristic high-energy weapon.
Rafael is unveiling the first details of the Iron Beam system at the Singapore Airshow in February, and plans to formally introduce the new system at the Eurosatory exhibition in June.
“At the Singapore Airshow, we are introducing the 'Iron Shield'—an integrated system comprising an air-defense/C-RAM capability comprising the Iron-Dome, Iron-Beam” and Modular Integrated C4 Air and Missile Defense (MIC4AD) system, Joseph Horowitz, director of marketing and business development at Rafael's Air Superiority Systems Division told Aviation Week. “The Iron Shield employs a solid-state laser interceptor designed to engage targets at very short range, below the levels where we currently employ the Iron Dome.”
Iron Beam is designed to minimize collateral damage, environmental impact and remain friendly to nearby air traffic, Horowitz added.
Iron Dome's critics claim that the system's soft spot is in its expensive “battle-economy,” but Horowitz says Iron Beam would offer a deep magazine and minimal logistics trail.
In fact, an Iron Beam fire unit will not require any replenishment during combat—enabling the unit to operate continuously, dependent solely on the supply of electricity from the platform. “With Iron Beam engaging in the short-range battle, missile-based interception systems such as Iron Dome and David's Sling will be able to focus on the higher and longer threats. All intercepts will be managed by MIC4AD, to maximize defense efficiency,” he says.
High-energy laser weapons systems (HELWS) will also be able to operate autonomously and independently of other systems, when required. The system will cover 360 deg., providing full hemispherical protection for point-defense.
While the cost per shot of guided interceptors is in the tens of thousands to millions of dollars, the cost per shot of the HELWS will be negligible, calculating the fuel cost for electrical power generation. The cost per shot of the Iron Beam is aimed to be below the costs of cannons. The entire system is also designed to offer reduced life-cycle cost.
Supported by seed funding from the Directorate of Defense Research & Development (DDR&D), Rafael has been developing solid-state lasers for many years. Recently, Rafael has elevated this research into system development and integration.
While the initial derivative of the HELWS is aimed at land-based application and short-range engagements, company officials emphasize its platform flexibility and modularity, versatility and efficiency, derived from high-power beam combination technology.