Weapons

Singapore Airshow: Rafael launches Iron Beam

10 February 2014
An artist's impression of the Iron Beam's twin HEL units engaging an inbound projectile. Source: Rafael

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has unveiled its Iron Beam high-energy laser (HEL) system designed to defeat rockets, mortars, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at short ranges.

The land-based system, which was unveiled at the Singapore Airshow on 11 February, uses a pair of multi-kilowatt solid-state lasers to defeat incoming projectiles out to a range of about 2 km, a company official told IHS Jane's .

The mobile Iron Beam battery is comprised of an air defence radar, a command and control (C2) unit, and two HEL systems, Senderovits Ezra, deputy general manager of marketing and business development at Rafael, explained. The company-supplied imagery of the truck-mounted battery shows these various components housed in ISO shipping containers, although the actual configuration of the Iron Beam would depend on the customer's requirements.

"It is currently a truck-mounted system that is being used as a testbed, but it could just as easily be fitted to an armoured vehicle or some other configuration", Ezra said.

Once the Iron Beam's air defence radar (any radar will suffice, Ezra noted) acquires an incoming projectile, a thermal camera takes over the tracking until it is engaged simultaneously by two HELs. The system uses two lasers to provide the power needed to overcome atmospheric interference and physically destroy the target, which it does by focusing the beams on an area "about the size of a coin", Ezra said.

Ezra declined to give specific power levels for the HELs, except to say that they are currently working with "tens of kilowatts", but expects to move into the "hundreds of kilowatts" in the future. Rafael does not produce the lasers itself, but sources them from several unnamed suppliers.

As Ezra noted, Iron Beam is still a development programme and is not yet a finished product. "We are currently focused on understanding the technology, and we are at the beginning of a very long road," he said, adding: "We are waiting for more powerful lasers, but the investment from the [Israeli] government right now is limited."

While Ezra would not be specific, he did say that tests conducted to date have met with "a very good" success rate. He noted that about 100 firings have so far taken place.

According to Ezra, the HEL-based Iron Beam has a number of advantages over the more conventional missile-based systems. "Missile defence systems are hugely expensive," he said. "But with Iron Beam each shot costs almost nothing, and there are no real limits on the number of shots you can take." He also noted that, unlike missile-based systems, the Iron Beam cannot miss its target and cause collateral damage.

As the system is still in development, it has not yet been determined how it might fit into Israel's multi-tiered missile defence system that includes Iron Dome, David's Sling, and Arrow 3. Ezra noted that this is a decision for the government take at the appropriate time, but he added that it might be deployed as a stand-alone system to protect particular high-value assets.

With Iron Beam being a defensive system, Ezra said he expects it to be offered for export and he noted that Rafael has received interest from a number of potential customers. "There is definitely a market [for Iron Beam], and that market is growing. The number of threats is growing, and not everything can be dealt with by missiles."



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