Rafael Lifts Lid On Laser Defense
Israeli defense specialist Rafael (Booth N51) has unveiled a new system to tackle short-range mortar and rocket threats, and close-in air threats such as UAVs. Rather than employing a projectile to destroy incoming threats, the new Iron Beam system uses a high-energy laser (HEL).
Building on its success with the Iron Dome CRAM (counter rockets and mortar) rapid-reaction interceptor system that has been deployed by the Israel Defence Force, Rafael has devised the Iron Beam HEL to defeat a range of threats that require rapid reaction. The system can be operated from a fixed installation, or can be vehicle-mounted for rapid deployment into the field to protect critical installations or population centers. Iron Beam is not seen as a replacement for Iron Dome, as the limitations of laser attenuation in the atmosphere dictate that it is restricted to close-in engagements.
Iron Beam employs separately located high-power fiber-optic lasers. It can operate as a stand-alone system, or can be cued by other defensive networks. Having been handed a threat track by the command and control unit, Iron Beam re-acquires the target with its own medium field of view sensor. The target is further handed over to a narrow field of view sensor for accurate tracking, before the HEL fires to engage. Target destruction is achieved by either “cook-off,” in which the surface is heated so the weapon detonates itself in mid-air, or by burning through the threat’s surface to destroy critical components or sub-systems beneath the skin. The detection to destruction cycle takes only a few seconds.
Using a directed-energy weapon has a number of advantages over traditional gun or missile systems. The lack of expendables greatly reduces the logistical footprint and cost of each engagement, and the laser system offers a virtually unlimited magazine. Collateral damage is also reduced due to the lack of any destructive materials.
How Iron Beam might be deployed in the field has yet to be defined. A battery consists of a battle management and C3 module, a radar for initial target acquisition, and multiple laser effectors. The number of effectors to be deployed will be decided by operational doctrine. Using multiple lasers against a single target increases the effectiveness of the system, and also allows larger areas to be covered.
Iron Beam is currently in the development phase as Rafael continues to focus on the technology. The company began tests against mortar targets some years ago, but has now expanded the remit to cover more target sets, such as rockets and small UAVs. At present the system is for land-based use, but it also has an obvious maritime application.
Rafael, which also supplies the Spyder air defense system to Singapore, is initially developing Iron Beam with a view to field-deploying the system with Israeli forces. However, the company is also hoping to be able to export the system in the future, and believes it could be of significant value to a number of nations.