The newly formed Israeli government will have to decide before the end of the year whether to restart the programme aimed at developing a laser systems that can intercept rockets, after earlier Israeli projects for developing these systems, partly in conjunction with U.S. partners, were shut down in 2007, when it was decided to focus on the IRON DOME system. Some Israeli defence companies, backed by a coalition of scientists and supporters, are trying to convince the Ministry of Defence to restart the programme, though opposition to the initiative remains strong.
According to Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a prototype laser cannon for intercepting mortar shells and similar short-range threats is in a very advanced stage of development, and successful experiments have already been carried out. According to IAI , the main advantage of the laser is a fast reaction time, and therefore such a system is good for dealing with short-range munitions such as mortars. A few years ago, Rafael presented the first models of a laser gun called “IRON BEAM” designed to respond to shells fired from a range of up to 5 miles from the border. This is a threat the IRON DOME has difficulty coping with because of the short time that passes from the moment the launch is detected until it hits. Rafael has also developed a version of its DRONE DOME system which is equipped with a laser gun. In the U.S and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) there are those who believe that this system has additional advantages over missile-based defence systems, since its arsenal of ammunition never ends, and the cost of launching a laser beam is very low compared with an IRON DOME interception missile that is estimated to cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The issue became very urgent a few weeks ago after 460 rockets were launched into Israel, some in salvos of 30-40 rockets. However, following the last Gaza operation in 2014, IRON DOME became a “star”, mainly because its high kill rate. With recent developments – the capability to launch salvos of rockets from Gaza and the more dangerous threat – the 140,000 rockets accumulated by Hezbollah in Lebanon, attention is once again turning to the laser.