Israel uses ‘airborne laser’ to shoot down drones in huge leap forward for its defence systems
- Israel successfully tested a high-powered laser weapon, defence ministry says
- Video shows the weapon shooting down drones by burning holes in them
- Israel says weapon could one day be used to shoot down missiles and mortars
- That would mean it could replace its current Iron Dome system, which is used to shoot down Hamas rockets but is expensive to arm
Published: 16:50 BST, 21 June 2021 | Updated: 17:15 BST, 21 June 2021
Israel has used an airborne laser to shoot down drones in a series of tests, officials said Monday, calling it a ‘milestone’ for its already powerful defence systems.
During the tests, a prototype of the high-power laser system carried on a small civilian plane ‘successfully intercepted several [drones]’, said Yaniv Rotem, head of the defence ministry’s research and development unit.
The system could down any flying object, including ‘drones, mortars, rockets, ballistic missiles,’ Rotem said, adding they hoped to have a working prototype in ‘three to four years’.
It means that, at least in theory, the laser system could be used as part of Israel’s Iron Dome system which is effective but expensive to use.
Israel says it has used a laser mounted on an aircraft to shoot down drones at a distance of 3ft, but hope the weapon can be upgraded to fire over a distance of 12 miles
Footage released by the Israeli MoD shows the laser burning holes in drones which then crash to the ground during tests ‘in the last week’
A video released by the Israelis showed the laser system on the back of the small plane, directing a beam of energy towards a test drone, apparently burning a hole and setting it on fire.
The tests saw the airborne lasers intercept drones from a range of 3ft, but once operational, developers claimed it could reach targets as far as 12 miles away.
The laser, Rotem said, uses existing Israeli aerial defence technologies to track and lock its target, before firing a 100-kilowatt laser beam, Rotem told reporters.
Oren Sabag, head of Elbit Systems which was working with the Israeli defence ministry on the lasers, called the recent successful trials ‘a significant milestone’ in the product’s development.
Israel’s defence establishment was in parallel developing a ground-based laser defence system for aerial threats.
But an airborne system had the advantage of being able to operate at a high altitude and above clouds, which could impair the operation of a ground-based laser.
A drone smokes as it drops into the ocean after being shot by a laser weapon that the Israeli MoD has been testing
The civilian plane used during testing takes off from an airfield in Israel
Recent tests downed drones flying at an altitude of 3,000ft.
The electricity-powered lasers provide a significantly cheaper solution to complement Israel’s existing air defences.
The lasers would be used alongside Israel’s short-range Iron Dome system, as well as its medium-range David’s Sling system, and the Arrow, Israel’s highest-altitude missile interception system.
Israel’s army, its latest conflict with Hamas in Gaza last month, said 4,300 projectiles were fired by Palestinian militants towards the Jewish state, with the Iron Dome defence system intercepting 90 percent of those headed for populated areas.
Each Iron Dome missile costs tens of thousands of dollars.
‘The laser system will add a new layer of protection at greater ranges and in facing a variety of threats – securing the State of Israel while saving the costs of interception,’ Defence Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement.