By D. Bender
After the US Navy’s successful battle laser tests, a former Israeli air force chief says the system may be a more potent, faster, and less costly alternative to anti-missile arsenals like Iron Dome, Israel Defense reported.
“Laser is a multirole system – like a fighter aircraft. You can deploy it on the ground, on board an aircraft, on a Jeep or on an armored vehicle. It can intercept aircraft, missiles, artillery shells and UAVs,” according to Maj.-Gen. (res.) David Ivry, who has headed Boeing Israel since 2003.
Ivry, who was the ninth Israel Air Force chief between 1977 and 1982, was among the original brains behind the long-range Arrow ballistic missile, which, along with the mid-range David’s Sling and short-range Iron Dome, are slated to provide the Jewish State with a tiered defense system against an estimated 100,000 rockets in the hands of Lebanon based terror group Hezbollah, not to mention Hamas in Gaza, Iran, and other non-state actors.
While Iron Dome more than proved its abilities in knocking hundreds of Hamas-fired rockets out of the sky during the summer’s Operation Protective Edge and previously, government and Defense Ministry officials are concerned that even its close-to-90 percent success rate against smaller Grads and Qassam munitions could be child’s play compared to what may lie ahead in future conflicts.
“The Iron Dome system has inherent capabilities that were not fully tested either in Pillar of Defense or in Protective Edge where, with all due respect, we were dealing with Hamas,” according to Yosi Druker, Rafael’s general manager of the Air Superiority Systems Division.
While the 735 intercepts of the Gaza rockets fired toward populated areas was a serious and sustained improvement over earlier software and hardware versions used in Pillar of Defense two years ago, officials are concerned that it still won’t be enough to successfully deal with far more massive fusillades by heavier munitions.
“In the context of Lebanon, it will be something different,” Druker said.
The Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group’s massive arsenal is reportedly mostly hidden throughout south Lebanon. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, vowed in a recent address that the weapons would hit all of the state of Israel in a future conflict, including Tel Aviv.
“Ben-Gurion International Airport would have to be shut down from early on in the fighting against Hezbollah,” an official told Israel Hayom at the end of October. “Iron Dome won’t be able to duplicate its interception rate from Operation Protective Edge.”
Additionally, at upwards of $70,000 to even $100,000 per Tamir interceptor, it’s a costly response, and – even while the missiles are GPS-synced to only fire when the incoming munition is headed for pre-defined populated areas – may still be overwhelmed by dozens of incoming salvos of rockets, fired at once to overcome Iron Dome’s ability to track divergent targets simultaneously.
On the other hand, as Ivry noted, “under fog or heavy cloud conditions … the laser beam is distorted and becomes ineffective. These are the situations that should be complemented by Iron Dome.”
Using Israel’s gateway Ben-Gurion airport as an example, he pointed to the particular civil aviation threat, which, did, in fact, briefly shut down flights over the summer, and cause intermittent rerouting to alternate flight plans – a move which even scared off some carriers.
“You do not want anything dropping there under any circumstances. If even one rocket should hit that airport, no airline will land there. This is the place where you should deploy both the laser weapon system and the Iron Dome system,” Ivry said, pointing to the “$5,000 or less” price tag per light punch.
Comparing the divergent defense systems, Ivry noted that, “In order to shoot down Katyusha rockets from a range of 15-20 kilometers, you need a power output of 100 kilowatts. Today, with a solid-state laser, you can reach output rates of 30-40 kilowatts – depending on the manufacturing country. No one states exactly what they actually have, but it is certain that all of them have reached (output rates of) 10-15 kilowatts. So, you connect a few of those and obtain the output you need.”
Navy officials at the Office of Naval Research, said on Dec.10th that the laser weapon system (LaWS) mounted on the USS Ponce “locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality.”
Ivry noted that, “In ’96 we began developing the Nautilus as a prototype. We deployed a system in Kiryat Shmona (Israel’s northernmost city, and alongside the Lebanese border).
“It was a collection of components from different systems and its achievement was the fact that is succeeded in keeping the beam for two continuous seconds on the same point. The radar was the prototype of the radar used in the Arrow system (Green Pine). This system was not operational, but it succeeded in proving that it was feasible. That was the goal. But then they decided to put this project on hold. They thought it would be less costly to stop the rocket fire by two [IDF] divisions. In reality, the rocket fire never stopped,” Ivry said.
“If you want to shoot down a Katyusha rocket, you need to penetrate its outer shell. For this you have to keep the beam on the same point for two seconds. This is the challenge. It was proven with the Nautilus system on targets including mortar and artillery shells. You establish a connection between a radar and a self-aiming system and then you achieve results. If you have 100 kilowatt output – you will have a solution for all of the Katyusha rockets. In the USA they are in no hurry as no one fires Katyusha rockets at them. They do not face the threats Israel faces.”
“Laser weapons are powerful, affordable and will play a vital role in the future of naval combat operations,” according to Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder.
“At less than a dollar per shot, there’s no question about the value LaWS provides,” said Klunder.
Watch a clip of the laser in action against towed and airborne targets HERE.