Israel has used an airborne laser to shoot down drones in a series of tests, officials said Monday, calling it a “milestone” to update its already powerful defence systems.
During the tests, which took place “over the last week,” a prototype of the high-power laser system carried on a small civilian plane “successfully intercepted several UAVs”, said Yaniv Rotem, head of the defence ministry’s research and development unit, using the acronym for unmanned aerial vehicles.
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 was not possible to verify the military’s claims.
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 one kilometer (3,280 feet), but once operational, developers claimed it could reach targets as far as 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, Rotem said.
The laser, Rotem said, uses existing Israeli aerial defence technologies to track and lock its target, before firing a 100-kilowatt laser beam that would down it, 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.
Recent tests downed drones flying at an altitude of 3,000 feet (900 meters).
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.