Israel to spend $150 million on laser defenses, after US hesitation

By Arie Egozi,
Published by Breaking Defense, 3 August 2022

Sources said Israel had hoped Biden’s visit would be an opportunity to convince the US to pitch in its own cash.

TEL AVIV: Israel plans to pour about $150 million into the development of its laser air defense system known as Iron Beam, after the US apparently declined for now to take part in the funding.

An Israeli government committee overseeing acquisition a few days ago approved more than 500 million Israeli shekels ($148 million) for the laser-based rocket interceptor developed by Rafael, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz. The allocated budget is reportedly spread over six years and is earmarked for “the development and procurement of an advanced surface-to-air defense system, along with an air-to-air system the can be installed on planes.” The budget for the air-to-air system, to be developed by Elbit Systems, was not discussed in the meeting.

Prior to US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East last month, Breaking Defense reported that Israeli officials planned to request American funds — around $300 million — be added to the already $3.3 billion Foreign Military Financing that Jerusalem receives from Washington. The new pot of money would be dedicated to laser-based defense development, Israeli defense sources said at the time.

But sources now say that even after Biden was personally given a tour of the Israeli tech, the US has been disinclined to provide the hoped for funding, for now. Haaretz, citing sources involved in the project, reported it was expected the US government would pitch in to the systems’ development in some fashion later on. US lawmakers are already publicly pushing the US to cooperate with Israel on directed energy weapons.

US President Joe Biden (2nd R) smiles as he poses in front of an Iron Beam (L) and an Iron Dome air defence system (R) with Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz (L) and caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid (3rd R), while US Defence Attache in Israel, Brigadier General Shawn A. Harris (2nd R), and Israeli army Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (R) look on during a tour at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on July 13, 2022. – Biden started today his first tour of the Middle East since entering the White House last year. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel has dramatically accelerated the development of laser-based defense systems in recent years, as Breaking Defense has reported.

The acceleration of the program was spurred by the growing threat posed by Iranian-made armed drones that are sent to the country’s proxy forces in the Gulf and Middle East, as well as the growing arsenal of Iranian-made rockets in the hands of the Hezbollah in Lebanon, defense sources have said.

The Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) and Rafael have jointly performed the tests in an Israeli test range in April. According to the Israeli MoD, the “demonstrator successfully intercepted UAVs, mortars, rockets, and anti-tank missiles in multiple scenarios.”

The ministry added that the tests are the first phase of a multi-year program led by the DDR&D and defense industries. “The program aims to develop a high-power ground and aerial laser system equipped to deal with long-range, high-intensity threats. The laser will complement the ‘Iron Dome’ system and will be an effective and economically efficient addition to Israel’s multi-tiered air defense array,” the MoD said in April.

A defense source noted the laser system would be used in tandem with kinetic missile defenses when necessary.

“The laser is limited by clouds and the beam must stay on the target for a few seconds to kill it,” the source said. “This reduces its efficiency especially when the rockets are launched in salvos.”

Both the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the US embassy declined to comment for this report.

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