Unveiled at the 2014 Singapore Air Show on February 11 and expected to enter service with the Israel Defense Forces in 2015, the system is designed to destroy short-range rockets, artillery, and mortars too small for the Iron Dome system to intercept effectively. In addition, the system could also interceptunmanned aerial vehicles. Iron Beam will use a “directed high energy laser beam” to destroy hostile targets with ranges of up to 7 kilometres (4.3 mi). Iron Beam will constitute the fifth element of Israel’s integrated air defense system, in addition to Arrow 2, Arrow 3, David’s Sling and Iron Dome. However, Iron Beam is also a stand-alone system.
Iron Beam uses a fiber optic laser to destroy an airborne target within 4-5 seconds of firing. Whether acting as a stand-alone system or with external cueing as part of an air-defense system, a threat is detected by a surveillance system and tracked by vehicle platforms in order to engage. The main benefits of using a directed energy weapon over conventional missile interceptors are lower costs per shot, an unlimited magazine, lower operational costs, and less manpower. Though the system may not cost less than missiles, operating it has lower life-cycle costs.
Limited details that have been released as of February 2014 are that the system has successfully targeted mortar and artillery shells in over 100 tests and engaged and destroyed small UAVs. Current power levels are at “tens of kilowatts” and planned to be increased to hundreds of kW. Iron Beam has so far been funded mainly by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and Rafael is awaiting a decision on whether they will choose to operate the system. Rafael is also pursuing increasing the range of the system and partnering with other companies to further develop the prototype. If sufficiently funded, the Iron Beam could be operational in two to three years.