New Israeli laser system to become latest defence layer against rockets

January 12, 2020 by Yaakov Lappin
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Israel’s Ministry of Defence announced on Wednesday that its Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) has made a dramatic breakthrough in the world of laser weapons technology.

A computer-generated image showing a laser-based missile-defence system being developed by Israel, Jan. 8, 2020. Credit: Israeli Defence Ministry.

The DDR&D is one of the most advanced defence technology government branches in the world, and this week, it lifted the veil on a year-long development program of a laser-based defence system that will boost Israel’s ability to intercept rocks, artillery and mortars. The new system will also be able to shoot down drones and neutralize anti-tank missiles.

According to the Defence Ministry, the breakthrough came when it was able to take electric-powered laser systems and focus their beams at longer-ranges, while dealing with a variety of weather conditions.

“Based on high-energy lasers, this technology will prompt a strategic change in the defence capabilities of the State of Israel,” stated the ministry.

The announcement comes after years of efforts, many of which hit a dead end, to create laser defence systems. But a combined research-and-development program with defence companies Rafael and Elbit systems, as well as academic institutions, led to the breakthrough. In the coming year, the ministry will conduct its first demonstration of the new capabilities.

“We are entering a new age of energy warfare in the air, land and sea,” said Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, head of research and development at the Defence Ministry.” The investments into the current system have placed “the State of Israel among the leading countries in the field of high-energy laser systems.”

Extra layer of security, even against drones

The Defence Ministry unveiled three new programs for the application of the lasers. The first will see the system placed on the ground in order to complement the abilities of the existing Iron Dome air-defence system, which fires interceptors to shoot down threats over Israeli cities.

A second variant will see a mobile laser weapon placed onboard military vehicles, to provide troops with protection in the battlefield. And a third version will be mounted on drones, probably to protect them against missile threats.

The laser cannons can shoot down threats continuously and at a far lower cost than traditional systems. They provide an extra layer of defence and can be used not only against rockets but also against military or civilian-made drones in the future.

A Western defence source pointed out that Israel is not the first country to develop laser defence systems. Last year, Russia unveiled its own laser air-defence weapon, while the U.S. Navy has spent the past six years conducting trials of its own laser weapon to defend ships against threats.

The source stressed that the new system’s range will not be as far as existing systems like Iron Dome. In addition, the line-like nature of the laser weapon means that it can hit one rocket at a time.

Nevertheless, he said, the laser cannons will represent a major improvement to Israeli shoot-down capabilities, and at minimal expense, once it becomes operational.

As Israel’s enemies—from Hezbollah to Hamas to Iran—continue to build on their arsenals of rockets and missiles, Wednesday’s announcement represents an important additional step in the defensive and security capabilities of the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, Israel is intensively developing its own offensive capabilities, designed to extinguish the projectile fire as quickly as possible in any future conflict.

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