This week, Israel’s Ministry of Defense announced a successful test of airborne laser weapons capable of destroying incoming rocket attacks and attack drones, a far more advantageous form of defense than using ground-based laser systems such as Israel’s successful Iron Dome, Arrow, David’s Sling, and Patriot surface-to-air missile systems.
A press release noted, “The test series was conducted under the leadership of the Directorate of Defense R&D in the Israel Ministry of Defense. During this series, a High-Power Laser system was installed on an aircraft and was tested in a number of scenarios. It successfully intercepted and destroyed all of the UAVs that were launched throughout the test. The ability to intercept and destroy airborne threats in the air is groundbreaking and offers a strategic change in the air defense capabilities of the State of Israel.”
“Airborne laser systems offer advantages over ground-based laser systems due to the fact that they are carried aboard aircraft and therefore can be rapidly moved between locations. This offers added flexibility to respond to UAV threats wherever they might present themselves and provides greater coverage over a much wider area, especially when compared to a stationary system,” The Drive explained, adding that ground-based laser systems could be deleteriously affected by clouds and smoke.
The press release also noted another advantage the airborne system has over the ground-based system: a low cost per interception. “Footage shared online shows the system deployed on a Cessna 208 Caravan behind a windowed panel on the left side of the aircraft’s rear fuselage,” The Drive reported.
Oren Sabag, General Manager of Elbit Systems Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Division, said, “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.”
As Brett Tingley of The Drive noted, “Militants have been increasingly using drones to attack Israel,” adding, “It’s also worth considering that one of the key benefits of lasers are they can, at least in principle, fire indefinitely, so long as they have a sufficient and consistent power supply. This is important when considering questions about whether it is possible to simply overwhelm existing defense systems like Iron Dome. … Israel is the first to actually deploy a counter-drone laser aboard an aircraft and effectively make it work, at least from what has been publicly disclosed.”
The Jerusalem Post reported of Israel’s Iron Dome in May: “Up until last Monday, it intercepted 2,500 rockets in ten years since first being declared operational in 2011. This number is important considering the fact it had to intercept some 1,200 rockets in the past week fired from Gaza. Hamas’s level of rocket fire, precision and speed of rockets clearly led to the system needing to intercept large numbers, more than in many years before. In May 2019, experts estimated the arsenal of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad at around 5,000 to 20,000 rockets. … This attempt to blanket cities with rockets appears to be a new strategy and this is what Iran’s media says when it says the number of rockets fired is more than in the past.”
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