Iron Beam is a 100kW-class high-energy laser weapon system (HELWS) being developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, a defence technology company based in Israel, for integration into the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) multi-tier air defence framework.
Funded by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the Iron Beam system was unveiled by Rafael at the Singapore Airshow in February 2014.
The high-power laser system will complement the country’s existing missile defence system in countering the increasingly sophisticated airborne threats to protect both military forces and civilian populations. It provides a cost-effective and highly efficient way to intercept a wide range of threats such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), rockets and mortars at a short range.
Rafael introduced the naval version of the Iron Beam laser weapon system at the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX) 2023 held in Singapore in May 2023.
The Iron Beam air defence laser system was originally scheduled to enter service with the IDF by 2025. Its development, however, has been expedited for quicker deployment in response to the escalation of hostilities involving the Hamas organisation in Gaza in October 2023.
Iron Beam is set to be the first operational HELWS in its class.
Iron Beam HELWS development details
In March 2022, the Israeli Minister of Defense approved the allocation of an undisclosed amount of funding for the advancement and manufacture of the Iron Beam system in collaboration with Elbit Systems, a defence electronics company based in Israel. The system’s development plan is led by the Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) under the Israel Ministry of Defense.
During the same month, Rafael, in collaboration with the DDR&D, successfully conducted a series of live field tests using an Iron Beam system demonstrator to counter steep-trajectory threats. The demonstrator effectively intercepted UAVs, mortars, rockets, and anti-tank missiles in a variety of challenging scenarios at a range of up to 2.7 miles (4.34km).
In December 2022, Rafael partnered with Lockheed Martin, an aerospace company based in the US, for the joint development, testing and manufacture of HELWS within the framework of the Iron Beam project in the US and Israel.
The collaborative project will build upon assets that have been independently developed by Rafael and the DDR&D.
Iron Beam laser weapon system details
Iron Beam is a state-of-the-art, mobile, land-based directed energy interception system. It can neutralise a broad spectrum of threats with pinpoint accuracy, covering distances ranging from a few hundred meters to several kilometres.
The key components of an Iron Beam battery include an air defence radar, a command and control (C2) unit, and two high-energy laser (HEL) systems.
The system is adaptable for integration into multiple platforms, such as the existing Iron Dome air defence system, and can seamlessly integrate into multifaceted air defence systems. The specific configuration of the Iron Beam system can be customised to meet the unique requirements of each customer.
Adverse weather conditions, however, can impact the system’s performance as the laser beams tend to underperform in conditions of high dust and in high fog and cloud levels.
Iron Beam system operational details
Iron Beam’s air defence radar detects an incoming projectile, and a thermal camera takes over the tracking responsibilities until the projectile is concurrently engaged by two HELs.
The system employs dual lasers to deliver the necessary energy required to overcome atmospheric disruptions. It concentrates the laser beams on an area roughly the size of a coin to physically eliminate the target.
The system’s high-energy solid-state laser technology fires electrically sourced laser beams to intercept the incoming threats silently.
Laser system details
The laser system of the Iron Beam features an optical director, which includes multiple channels, a multichannel HEL transmitter, a visible zoom wide or narrow field of view, and a laser range finder to measure distances precisely.
In addition, it is equipped with a laser illuminator that indicates the target of interest using laser beams for detection by humans and a thermal cabin telecommunications unit.
Operational advantages of Iron Beam
Iron Beam offers the capability to engage targets at the speed of light, possesses an unlimited ammunition supply, features a minimal cost per interception of approximately $3.50 per shot and incurs limited collateral damage.
The system will serve as the innermost layer within Israel’s comprehensive missile defence network, effectively intercepting mortar shells, rockets and other aerial threats with trajectories that fall below the operational range of the Iron Dome.