Israel tests airborne high-energy laser against drone targets
The Israeli Ministry of Defense, the Israeli Air Force (IAF), and Elbit Systems have successfully field tested an airborne High-Power Laser Weapon System (HPL-WS). Installed inside a Cessna prop plane, the solid-state laser weapon intercepted a number of drones at different altitudes and ranges at a testing field in the center of Israel.
During the recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas, Hamas fired over 4,300 rockets across the border. Of those that entered Israeli airspace, the Israeli Defense Force's Iron Dome system managed to intercept and destroy 90 percent.
This is an impressive success rate for an interceptor missile system – especially when one considers that Iron Dome's radar can not only track an incoming rocket for an intercept, but it can also calculate the rocket's trajectory and ignore it if the impact point is in a river or an empty field.
However, Iron Dome has one major drawback – it's expensive. Each interception can cost up to US$150,000 and the 10 Iron Dome batteries have only a limited number of missiles on hand. Given that Hezbollah alone is thought to have over 100,000 rockets, there is the real possibility of the system being overwhelmed by dozens of massed salvos coming from two different directions.
To counter this, the Ministry of Defense has committed to a program to develop energy weapons to intercept and destroy hostile drones and rockets. Not only do lasers have the advantage of traveling at the speed of light, but they also cost only a dollar a round and they never run out of ammunition so long as there's electricity available.
For the tests, the laser weapon was put through a series of scenarios during which it intercepted and destroyed all of the drones that were launched at a range of up to over a kilometer (0.62 miles). The goal of the multi-year project operated under the Directorate of Defense R&D and Elbit Systems is to produce a long-range weapon that can intercept drones and rockets at high altitude in all weather conditions.
During operations, the laser weapon will work in conjunction with the Iron Dome, David's Sling, and Arrow missile interceptor systems to destroy threats while they are still far from population centers.
"We are proud to spearhead the development of this strategic capability together with the Ministry of Defense and the IAF," says General Manager of Elbit Systems ISTAR, Oren Sabag. "The trials were successful thanks to a range of unique technological assets. We believe that the use of a high-power laser to carry out low-cost airborne interception of rockets and hostile unmanned aircraft, closer to their launching areas and away from population centers, offers a significant change in Israel's defense capabilities."
The video below discusses the HPL-WS.
Source: Elbit Systems