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Israel’s goal is to be AI ‘powerhouse’

The Iron Beam laser anti-missile system is being developed at an "impressive pace," a top Israeli defense official adds.

Israeli Defense Ministry Director General Eyal Zamir addresses the 2023 Herzliya Conference, May 22, 2023. Credit: Ministry of Defense Spokesperson’s Office.
Israeli Defense Ministry Director General Eyal Zamir addresses the 2023 Herzliya Conference, May 22, 2023. Credit: Ministry of Defense Spokesperson’s Office.

Israel’s aim is to become a “powerhouse” in the field of Artificial Intelligence, Maj. Gen. (res.) Eyal Zamir, director general of the Defense Ministry, said at the 2023 Herzliya Conference on Monday.

“Our mission is to transform Israel into an AI powerhouse, similar to Israel’s role in cyber. We will significantly increase the Ministry of Defense research and development budget this year to meet our goal,” he said at the event at Reichman University.

AI has for years played a role in every aspect of how the Israel Defense Forces operates, from monitoring enemies to shaping the ways strategic decisions are made. One significant boost AI provides the IDF is the ability to accurately predict what enemies will do based on an analysis of what they’ve done and are currently doing.

More tangibly, AI is used, for example, to analyze vast quantities of video feeds, which are provided to the IDF by cameras fixed on potential hot spots. Eventually, the technology should replace human operators who staff control rooms, watching surveillance video feeds for lengthy shifts around the clock.

Zamir also noted that the Iron Beam anti-missile defense system is being developed at an “impressive pace.”

“We will conduct another series of system tests soon. Following the tests, we will gradually begin to deploy the first system in the field to ensure protection against various threats,” he said.

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems continues to work on Iron Beam, a 100-kilowatt high-energy cannon that will make history by becoming the first-ever ground-based laser air-defense system against rockets, mortars and drones.

It will deliver speed-of-light interceptions and the only cost will be the electricity bill.

In June 2022, then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the cost would be a mere $2 per interception. While the actual cost is likely to be a few dollars higher, it won’t be much more expensive, and this represents a revolution.

Iron Beam will not replace Iron Dome; it will complement it, forming a new layer of air defense and defending civilian population centers, critical infrastructure and other sites. The laser’s shorter range and certain limitations imposed by bad weather conditions, as well as its inability to target more than one threat at a time, means that Iron Dome is here to stay.

“The key to victory in emerging and future battlefields lies in the relationship between military power, the use of technological, advanced and innovative tools, and the ability to continually ensure superiority over our enemies in these fields,” said Zamir.

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