TEL AVIV – Israel’s Defense Ministry has made a “technological breakthrough” on a laser beam defense system capable of intercepting rockets, drones and anti-tank missiles, it announced Wednesday.
“The Israeli brain continues to lead with breakthrough innovation. The laser project will make the defense establishment deadlier, more powerful and more advanced,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement.
“In addition to our existing war tools, we will add a laser sword against the threats, in the north and in the south,” Bennett said.
The development comes after years of research by defense contractors and academic scientists, the ministry said. Although it has successfully carried out interceptions of mortars, drones and anti-tank missiles at various ranges, the system would not be fully operational any time soon.
The head of the Defense Ministry’s Weapons Development and Technology Infrastructure Administration (MAFAT), Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, said Israel was “among the leading countries in the field of high-energy laser systems.”
“We are entering a new age of energy warfare in the air, on land and at sea,” he added.
According to Rotem, while the system itself would be very expensive – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars – the firing of a laser would cost only a single dollar, so was far cheaper in the long run than the Iron Dome missile defense system which costs tens of thousands of dollars for every interception.
The new system, which is not meant to replace the Iron Dome, is limited in that it does not function well in low visibility.
But it has a marked advantage over the existing missile defense systems such as the Iron Dome, he said.
“During a war, missile interceptors will at one point run out, but with this system, as long as you have electricity, you have a never-ending supply,” Rotem said.
“This is a weapon that you can’t see or hear,” he added.
Dubi Oster, head of the DD [Directorate of Defense] R&D Optronics Department, called it a “a dramatic solution to rocket fire.”
“We have been working on this for years. But it is challenging to get a good-quality beam to stay the size you need at the range you need, for example, a beam the diameter of a coin from here [in Tel Aviv] to Herzliya,” he said, indicating a range of about ten miles.
Over the next year, the ministry and defense companies together with Rafael and Elbit contractors will create three versions of the laser system: a stationary, ground-based one to be deployed close to the borders; a mobile system to defend the IDF; and an airborne system.