After a series of discussions in recent months, Defense Minister Benny Gantz last week approved the allocation of hundreds of millions of shekels for the development and production of an operational system that will intercept steep-track threats with a powerful laser. The decision marked a significant milestone in producing a new generation of ground to air defense, and the Director-General of the Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amir Eshel will sign the order in the coming days, to be followed by an accelerated development of Magen Or (Light Defense), which will be installed in the first phase near the Gaza Strip.
The defense minister toured the Rafael complex last Thursday, together with the head of R&D at Mapat, Brigadier General Yaniv Rotem, the CEO of Rafael, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yoav Har-Even, and the CEO of the Intelligence Division at Elbit Systems, Oren Sabag, who presented him with the developed prototype, following the working meetings that had taken place in recent months. Subsequently, the defense minister approved the progress of the program according to the work plan and advanced the order from Rafael.
According to the Defense Ministry, laser technology would make it possible to deal with a wide range of steep-track threats, including rockets, shrapnel, and UAVs, in a light, effective, and significantly inexpensive configuration relative to any other means of defense in use today.
But a distinction must be made between the ability to intercept incoming missiles using a laser beam and producing a reliable system at operational capability that would provide an effective umbrella in time of war, and the gap between the two is at least ten years.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced several months ago that Israel would soon have a laser interception system, but as Noam Amir reported Sunday in Makor Rishon, the PM’s promises were a bit embarrassing, since the system currently in development is light years away from becoming operational, certainly not in a way that would replace the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow and the Patriot systems.
Brigadier General Rotem set things in proper proportion when he said, “We are not replacing either the Iron Dome or David’s Sling, or the Arrow. We are producing a complementary system, as planned, that’s our intent. It will also be an economically affordable system. And the main idea when I say a complementary system is that we will always run the two parallel systems. We will try to get as much as we can out of the laser, and what we can’t – we’ll have the additional means, including the Iron Dome.”
It means that the IDF is not planning to replace the existing ground to air systems but only to complement them. So that in the next 11-day war, as was operation Guardians of the Wall, Israel’s response to the 4,500 missiles, shrapnel, drones, and other flying objects that Hamas would launch, the futuristic laser system would at most be able to help, but would not solve the problem on its own. The State of Israel would still have to ask the Americans for billions of dollars to complete its missile inventory, each costing about $30,000.