Israel is close to deploying a defense system that will use lasers to destroy incoming mortar shells, president and general manager of Rafael Armament Development Yedidia Yaari said.
“There is an answer for the mortars and it's a laser. We are already working on a model that hits rockets in the air with a very high rate of success, but we need money for development,” Ya’ari said on Saturday, adding that he thinks its a matter of a year or two before the system could be deployed.
Yaari also said there is work in progress on finding an answer to the infiltration tunnels deployed by Hamas to deadly effect during the war, but added that it was no easy matter to locate the tunnels before they are put into use.
Previous assessments have estimated that the so-called “Iron Beam” would be deployed in the next year or two, to add an extra layer to Israel’s anti-rocket defense, currently provided mainly by the Iron Dome – which is also produced by Rafael.
Rafael unveiled the Iron Beam system at the Singapore Air Show in February. The land-based system uses a pair of multi-kilowatt high-energy lasers (HEL) to disable incoming projectiles and unmanned aerial vehicles at short ranges.
Once a projectile sets off the system’s radar, a thermal camera tracks it and two HELs are fixed on it until they can penetrate and destroy it.
At the air show the company touted success rates of 90 percent for the system in test runs.
Yiftah Shapir, the head of the Middle East Military Balance project at the Institute for National Security Studies, expressed skepticism about the imminent deployment of the laser-based rocket defense system.
“Things that work in test runs don’t always work in the battlefield,” Shapir said, adding that the battery can only fix upon a single rocket or mortar at a time and that it takes a few seconds for the laser to bore through and explode a projectile. If the platform is flooded by a heavy salvo of projectiles it would have to take them out one by one, and some would presumably detonate before they could be stopped.
This is especially true for mortars, which are fired from short distances and land within seconds.
Shapir also said the system and other HEL defense systems are also problematic because of the dangerous levels of gas and heat they produce.
Shapir said the field of laser defense has been in the works in Israel at least since the ‘90s, and that there was great progress made in the field before some of these systems were basically pushed aside around 2006.
He said that the sidelining of such projects was a shame and that they could potentially have civilian applications as well.