There are important scientific developments happening in the Middle East almost daily, as Israel deploys its “Iron Dome” missile defense system. Israel is improving on the original American design, but it is also going far beyond it, to develop a laser-based defense against short- and medium-range missiles.
America should do the same.
“The bombardment from Gaza has made Israelis grateful for the Iron Dome, the mobile missile defense system that intercepts rockets aimed at populated areas,” writes Israeli journalist Paul Alster for Fox News. “The system was initially deployed in 2011, but has been upgraded substantially since then and has been credited with greatly reducing the number of deadly rockets falling in civilian territory. It has also changed the perception of the raging conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.”
Still, the system can be improved.
“The Israelis spent about $3 million to shoot down a Hamas drone flown over the Gaza strip that cost maybe a few hundred dollars,” explains Michael Hoffman for the website military.com. “The math just doesn’t add up.”
That’s why the Israeli army is developing a laser-based system.
“It only costs a few bucks to fire a laser versus the expensive costs of advanced missiles,” Hoffman says. “Lasers also have the convenience of not running out. Swarming is a serious threat for air defense systems, especially with cheap micro drones hitting the market. A swarm of these drones could easily overwhelm an air defense system armed with a limited number of missiles.”
Laser-based systems have another advantage. MIT physicist Theodore Postol — an opponent of the Iron Dome system, it must be said — points out that Iron Dome interceptors chase Hamas rockets, or hit them from the side.
“In both such cases,” he says, “geometry and the speed of the interceptors and rockets make it extremely unlikely the interceptor will destroy the rocket’s warhead.”
When the crippled rocket falls to Earth, it can explode. But a laser system could be far more precise in targeting not just the rocket, but the right part of the rocket.
It’s not a new idea. It was a key part of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. But the Defense Department has yet to develop a workable model.
“Until former Defense Secretary Bob Gates killed the program in 2007, the Air Force spent millions to develop a system on the premise of arming a fleet of cargo jets with laser systems in the nose constantly flying patrols to protect U.S. borders from ballistic missiles,” Hoffman notes.
Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, defense analysts Dave Majumdar and Erik Schechter say it’s time for America to develop its own version of what the Israelis are building.
“The U.S. military could develop a 100-kilowatt laser-cannon defense system, capable of shooting down drones, short range rockets and mortar fire, in fewer than five years. Within a decade, the U.S. could have a far more powerful 300-kilowatt laser,” Majumdar and Schechter contend.
The United States should work with the Israelis to develop this beneficial technology.