ISRAEL SUCCESSFULLY TESTS AIRBORNE HIGH-POWER LASER

Recent Context

The Israeli Ministry of Defense and Elbit Systems have successfully intercepted several UAVs using an airborne laser weapon during a test flight which have the capability to shoot down drones.

Introduction

The demonstrated system is being hailed as “a strategic change in the air defense capabilities of the State of Israel” and could potentially add a vital capability to Israel’s multi-layered integrated air defense system. The new high-power laser that has been tested against UAVs shows that the system is intended to defend against rocket attacks.

Israel’s new airborne high-power laser system could complement Israel’s existing multi-tier missile defense network, which includes the Iron Dome, Patriot, David’s Sling, and Arrow surface-to-air missile systems, as well as manned fighters and helicopters. The need for a multi-layered approach for lower-end threats presented itself in recent clashes when continuous mass rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants tested the Iron Dome’s capabilities by overwhelming it with sheer numbers. 

While airborne laser systems have been developed and tested to varying degrees of success by the U.S. Air Force as far back as the 1980s, 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 latest claims represent a technological triumph for the Israel Defense Forces which will likely influence other air arms around the globe.

Key facts

  1. Israel already has large and sophisticated air defense system.
  2. The UAVs were intercepted at various ranges and flight altitudes.
  3. The system successfully intercepted drones at a range of more than 1km.
  4. This system had 90 per cent interception rate against thousands of rockets

About Israel’s Laser defence system

Laser is a prototype developed with Elbit Systems. It was mounted on a civilian plane and successfully shot down drones in recent test conducted over Mediterranean Sea.

Background

What is a laser weapon?

Laser weapon is a directed-energy weapon which is based on lasers. As of January 2020, directed-energy weapons including lasers are currently at experimental stage despite several R&D. It is yet to be seen if or when laser weapons will be deployed as practical, high-performance military weapons. Laser generates a beam of light which needs clear air or a vacuum to work without thermal blooming.

Advantages

  1. 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. 
  2. An airborne counter-drone system also will be less impacted by atmospheric distortion than its ground-based counterparts.
  3. Laser systems offer advantages over kinetic interceptors, in that cost-per-intercept is much lower despite the potential for high up-front procurement and research and development costs of the laser systems themselves.
  4. 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.

Challenges

  1. Atmospheric thermal blooming is a major problem. This problem can worsen if fog, smoke, rain, dust, snow, smog, foam like obscurant chemicals is present.
  2. Highly susceptible to atmospheric conditions, clouds, and smoke.

Conclusion

Still, there are aforementioned challenges that remain. It will be interesting to see how the IAF and its research wings overcome these challenges as they try to migrate their airborne laser system into an operational state. 

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