Israel moves forward on laser-based anti-rocket defense, will begin initial supply

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Thursday that his office would sign a contract in the coming days to begin purchasing a laser air defense system to protect Israel against rockets and drones.

“We are at the beginning of the journey. It will take time, it is not a short process, but we will do it as soon as possible,” Gantz told reporters.

His comments threw cold water on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s announcement last month that Israel would roll out the system within a year.

The ministry has been testing the laser-based defense system for several years, shooting down a drone with it last year. Its research and development department initially planned to deploy the anti-missile system by 2024, but the military pushed for an earlier deployment.

This was apparently motivated by fears that in a future conflict the military would not have enough Iron Dome interceptor missiles and other air defense systems to shoot down incoming rockets, missiles and drones.

According to the head of the ministry’s research and development team, Brig. General (res.) Yaniv Rotem, the ground system will be ready in a “single digit” number of years.

“We are fully ready to place the order…and begin full-scale development, which means completing development and initial procurement,” Rotem said.

A new laser-based air defense system is seen at a Rafael weapons manufacturing complex in Israel, March 17, 2022. (Defence Ministry)

Gantz said hundreds of millions of shekels would be allocated for the final stages of development and the testing phase, during which the system will be placed on the border with the Gaza Strip, and hundreds of millions of additional shekels for the next step, subject to progress in the trial.

The ground-based laser system – dubbed Iron Beam – which is being developed with weapons manufacturer Rafael, is not intended to replace the Iron Dome or Israel’s other air defense systems, but to supplement and supplement them. , shooting down smaller projectiles and leaving larger ones for the more robust missile batteries, Rotem said.

Since development began, the high-powered laser has proven to be more powerful than the ministry team initially aimed for, Rotem said, without detailing the exact number of kilowatts of electricity it runs on.

According to the Department of Defense, as long as there is a constant power source for the laser, there is no risk of running out of ammo.

The disadvantage of a laser system is that it does not work well in low visibility, when there is heavy cloud cover and other inclement weather. For this reason, the ministry also intends to mount the system on an aircraft, which would help circumvent this limitation by placing the system above the clouds, although this is still a few years away, officials said. ministry.

“The powerful laser system is the first of its kind in the world,” said Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Managing Director Yoav Har-Even.

“After many years of research and development, we see this strategic plan as an important step in improving Israel’s air defense capabilities,” he added.

A computer-generated mock-up of a proposed laser-based air defense system being developed by Israel’s Defense Ministry, January 8, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

“Today we take an important and dramatic step towards changing the battlefield and improving security for Israeli residents amid growing threats to our border from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, under the auspices of the ‘Iran and terrorist organizations,’ Gantz said.

The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah is believed to maintain an arsenal of some 130,000 rockets, missiles and mortar shells, which the military says will be used against Israel in a future war. The two largest terror groups in the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are also believed to each possess thousands of rockets and mortar shells, even after firing more than 4,000 projectiles into Israel over the past of last year’s 11 day war.

Israeli military officials also said they had seen a growing trend of Iran’s use of attack drones in recent years, calling them a “UAV terror” of Iran.

Against these and other threats, Israel operates a multi-layered air defense network, consisting of the short-range Iron Dome, the medium-range David’s Sling, and the long-range Arrow and Patriot systems.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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