Israel’s defense establishment unveiled a laser-based system on Wednesday that in the future is expected to complement the country’s Iron Dome anti-missile system currently in use. The new system will undergo testing in the coming months with the goal of having it operational within a year and a half.
The goal is to use to laser-based system against Qassam rockets, such as those that have been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, as well as against mortar shells, anti-tank missiles and drones.
Laser-based interception is silent and invisible, and the cost is less than 10 shekels (about $3.50) per interception, in contrast with Iron Dome, which costs about 170,000 shekels ($49,000) per interception and makes noise on launch.
The new technology was made public by the head of the Defense Ministry’s weapons development administration, Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem. “We are entering a new era of ‘energy combat’ in the air, on land and at sea,” Rotem said. “Investments by the Defense Ministry in recent years have positioned Israel among the leading countries in [the field of] high-power lasers.”
The Defense Ministry has actually been working on high-power laser technology for years, but various versions of the technology developed in Israel and abroad had not proven themselves. Recently, however, significant progress was made in a collaborative effort involving the Defense Ministry, Israeli defense firms Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Elbit Systems and members of the academic community. The system is based on electric laser technology rather than the chemically based lasers used up to now.
The only laser-based military system that has been deployed anywhere in the world is one used on American ships, but it is only effective on relatively easy targets, such as rubber dinghies, and at short ranges.
The breakthrough in the Israeli effort came about a year and a half ago, when the Israeli developers created technology to focus and stabilize the laser beams over distances (and overcoming atmospheric disturbances). That led to the development of effective interception technology capable of providing a new layer of defense for Israel on land, at sea and in the air.
“[The system] would reduce dependence on intelligence or the need to investigate the threat to know what it is and how to act against it,” a defense source noted.
Following testing this year, once it is operational the military hopes to deploy the system in both the north and south of the country.
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