Iron Beam uses a fiber optic laser to destroy an airborne target within 4–5 seconds of firing. Whether acting as a stand-alone system or with external cueing as part of an air-defense system, a threat is detected by a surveillance system and tracked by vehicle platforms in order to engage. The main benefits of using a directed energy weapon over conventional missile interceptors are lower costs per shot, an unlimited magazine, lower operational costs, and less manpower. Though the system may not cost less than missiles, operating it has lower life-cycle costs. Limited details that have been released; as of February 2014 the system had successfully targeted mortar and artillery shells in over 100 tests and engaged and destroyed small UAVs. Current power levels are at "tens of kilowatts" and planned to be increased to hundreds of kW. Iron Beam has so far been funded mainly by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and Rafael is awaiting a decision on whether they will choose to operate the system. Rafael is also pursuing increasing the range of the system and partnering with other companies to further develop the prototype. If sufficiently funded, the Iron Beam could be operational in two to three years.
The Israeli Defense Forces are expected to deploy Iron Beam in 2015 as the world's first laser air-defense system. It is touted as being able to bring down targets "like flies" and is designed to be used against short-range rockets, artillery shells, and mortars with trajectories covering ranges of up to 7 km (4.3 mi), too small for Iron Dome to engage effectively. The system has been in development for five years and is produced by Rafael, funded by the MoD, and extensively underwritten by the United States. An Iron Beam battery is mobile and composed of an air defense radar, a command and control (C2) unit, and two HEL systems.