Israeli Army Wants Laser Interceptors Operational by 2022

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Iron Dome interecepting a barrage of Gaza rockets, during last round of fighting in May
Iron Dome interecepting a barrage of Gaza rockets, during last round of fighting in MayCredit: ANAS BABA / AFP

The Israeli army is urging Israel’s defense manufacturers to make a laser-based missile defense system operational by next year due to recent disagreements with the U.S. Democratic Party over Iron Dome funding. 

During the past two months, military officials have asked the companies involved in the project to raise it as a priority, with the goal of delivering the first operational system early next year and deploying it near the border with the Gaza Strip by mid-2022. The system, which the Israel Air Force will operate, is intended to integrate laser beam technology into the Iron Dome, which has been operating since 2011.

Each laser interception will cost a fraction of the 170,000 shekels (nearly $53,000) for each firing of the Iron Dome—with more than one interceptor often needed for each incoming rocket.

Three additional systems are to be delivered by 2024. According to current plans, all four are to be deployed in southern Israel.

The missile-based Iron Dome is expected to remain operational for many years to come, but the high volume of rockets fired into Israel during the May war with Gaza led defense officials to conclude that its high unit costs could, in the future, affect the duration of fighting and the IDF’s options.

Even though the U.S. House of Representatives approved $1 billion in funding for Iron Dome interceptors by a vote of 420-9, Israeli defense officials recognize that the dependence on U.S. funding for the system is only expected to become more challenging over time. Especially when the funding was postponed last month due to a split within the Democratic Party. The Senate must still pass the allocation with a vote that is yet to be scheduled.   

A test of the new system that was scheduled for the second half of the month was pushed back a few weeks based on recommendations from the field, mainly to eliminate dangers to the operators.

Currently, the new systems will be used to protect communities adjacent to the border fence, with the aim of intercepting rockets while they are still in Gazan airspace. Once the laser systems are fully deployed, the existing Iron Dome systems will be redeployed at a greater distance from these communities, to provide a response to longer-range rockets.

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