This week, a viral video showed a mysterious laser beam intercepting rockets fired from Gaza raised up many questions. The Israeli military has denied that it was the first operational use of the Iron Beam system during the ongoing war between Israel and Palestine; however, Israel’s futuristic laser cannon may still be part of its weapon arsenal in the next war as part of a pilot.
So, what is the Iron Beam, how does it work, what problems can it solve, and what are its flaws?
What is Iron Beam?
Iron Beam, also known as Light Shield, is a Raphael, Lockheed Martin, and the Israeli Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure to intercept a rocket using a laser beam within a range of up to 10 km. It was developed as a complementary system for the Iron Dome.
Technically, the Iron Beam is a highly-power laser beam, about ־100 kW, which hits at a certain point in the body of the missile or drone and heats it directly until it is blasted above the enemy territory.
Originally, Light Shield was designed to hit short-range missiles, but in practice, it may be more efficient at intercepting drones and non-pilot aircraft (unmanned aerial vehicles). This can be done since the casing of these tools is usually made out of plastic or light materials that are more heat-sensitive. In contrast, missiles and mortar have a hard, thick metal casing. Therefore, it takes several seconds for the laser beam to destroy these tools.
Nonetheless, the Iron Bean is a revolutionary weapon that can significantly improve military defense capabilities.
What problems can Iron Beam solve?
So, what kind of problems can the Iron Beam solve? How’s it different than Iron Dome?
First, the speed. For the Iron Dome, it takes several seconds to launch. However, the Iron Beam is instant and makes its way to the rocket at the speed of light! Then, the cost. While Iron Dom’s rocket interception costs around $50,000, the interception of Iron Beam can be as low as $1000 (although the Iron Beam system is, at the moment, far more expensive than Iron Dome, including the costs of energy and electricity usage).
Finally, the Iron Beam, unlike the Iron Dome or any other defensive weapon, can be an excellent defensive military weapon to intercept drones and unmanned aerial vehicles.
What are the flaws of the Iron Beam laser weapon?
Okay, so the Iron Beam technology is certainly impressive. For those who love science fiction, the Iron Beam interceptions look like a video game or a movie from the 80s. But it has some notable disadvantages. First, the Iron Beam is not effective in any weather condition. For instance, the system is not fully operational in cloud weather since clouds disturb hitting the target.
Another flaw of the Iron Beam is its ability to intercept long-distance ballistic missiles. Since these missiles have a wider casing that is not easily burned with laser, the Iron Beam seems to be a defensive tool only for drones and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Lastly, there’s the issue of high energy requirement to operate the Iron Beam system. Since the Iron Beam requires high-speed electricity to produce a 100 kW laser, there’s also a need for cooling systems, which add costs and weight.
In sum, any defensive weapon is always a good weapon. There’s not much controversy around it, and many countries are now thinking about acquiring not only offensive weapons but also defensive. At the same, not many countries like Israel face a constant threat of rockest from their enemies. That was one of the reasons why there was not much interest from any country to purchase the Iron Dome. The same applies to the Light Shield.
Nevertheless, the new laser system is still a game changer in predicting the future of war. The ability to intercept missiles, drones, and unmanned aerial vehicles eliminates, to a certain degree, the opponent’s power and allows the other side to attack freely with relative confidence in its own territory. Where does it go from here? not sure. But whether we want or not, we can certainly see a future of battlefields with lasers in the sky.
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