Among the weapons that Israel displayed for President Biden on Wednesday was a prototype of a new laser defense system that Israeli leaders have described as a strategic game changer for the region.
The weapon, known as the Iron Beam, is the result of two decades of research and experimentation. And while it may still be a few years away from deployment, officials say the laser will be able to intercept rockets, mortar shells, drones and anti-tank missiles.
Israel has long been a pioneer in air defense, with significant and continued American support. The display of the multi-tiered air defense arsenal put on for Mr. Biden provided an opportunity to present the products of that cooperation and to showcase Israeli military technologies to the world.
Iron Beam, which Mr. Biden viewed at Ben-Gurion Airport, is intended to complement, not replace, Iron Dome and David’s Sling, Israel’s short- and medium-range missile interception systems. Wednesday’s display also included the advanced Arrow 3 antiballistic missile system, which was jointly developed by Israel and the US Missile Defense Agency.
One of the first countries to develop a deployable laser weapon, Israel has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to the project as Israel and some of its Middle Eastern allies, including the United Arab Emirates, increasingly face airborne threats from their shared enemy, Iran, and its proxies.
Introducing the laser weapon this spring, Naftali Bennett, then Israel’s prime minister, hinted at the broader possibilities, saying that it was an asset that Israel could use to “gain support, create alliances and become even stronger.”
“This new generation of Israeli air defense could also serve our friends in the region who are also exposed to severe threats from Iran and its proxies,” he said. Bennett said.
Israel is not alone in developing such weapons. At least one laser weapon, Lockheed Martin’s Helios, has started deployment on US Navy ships, and the United States Army has been working on more powerful ones capable of down cruise missiles.
The technology has shifted from the chemical laser – which requires corrosive and toxic chemicals to induce a beam, as well as bulky machinery – to the solid-state laser, which requires only copious amounts of electricity.
Israeli officials say they are working closely with the United States on laser technology and looking to partner with their main strategic ally.
“We are sharing knowledge with the Americans,” said Daniel Gold, head of the Directorate of Defense Research and Development in Israel’s defense ministry and a brigadier general in the reserves, in an interview shortly before Mr. Biden’s arrival on Wednesday.
“We are talking about how to cooperate on the laser program,” he said. “The US has a very good program; We have a very good program, ”he said, adding that Wednesday’s display would be the first exposure of Iron Beam to the top level of American leadership.
Israeli defense officials said the laser weapon had performed beyond expectations in a series of live fire tests in the southern Israeli desert this spring, destroying a rocket, a mortar shell and a drone in flight.
Iron Dome is heavily subsidized by the United States, with each interception costing tens of thousands of dollars. Mr. Biden recently approved an allocation of about $ 1 billion for the acquisition of additional interceptors. Israeli officials say the main advantage of the Iron Beam will be its cost effectiveness, with interceptions costing little more than the power needed to operate it.
One disadvantage, however, is that ground-based laser beams are ineffective in hazy and cloudy conditions.