The Israeli military used a plane armed with a high-powered laser to intercept and shoot down unmanned aircraft in flight in a first-of-its-kind test for the Israeli armed forces, which are constantly searching for new ways to counter airborne threats such as rockets and drones from Gaza and elsewhere.
The High-Power Laser Weapon System was installed on an aircraft equipped with advanced sensors and tracking systems and used to engage multiple drones at various ranges and altitudes.
During testing, conducted last week by the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the local defense firm Elbit Systems, the aircraft “successfully intercepted and destroyed 100% of the UAVs launched during the test,” the defense ministry said.
The Israeli Ministry of Defense tweeted that Israel is “among the first countries in the world to demonstrate such capabilities.” The armed forces released a video of the testing.
“This is the first phase in a multi-year program to develop an advanced airborne laser system that will add another layer to Israel’s multi-tier defense array, complementing the capabilities of the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow systems,” the Israeli defense ministry said.
During the latest round of intense fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, ground-based interceptor systems such as the Iron Dome were used to intercept incoming rockets, as well as enemy unmanned aerial vehicles, and these vital systems, for the most part, performed exceptionally well.
But expending a costly interceptor missile on a potentially inexpensive drone is not as efficient as a laser, which is one reason militaries around the world have been increasingly looking to air-, land-, and sea-based lasers for countering drones.
Commenting on the recent testing, Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, the head of the military’s research and development efforts, said that “this is the first time in the State of Israel, and perhaps in the world, that this was done,” characterizing the test as a “groundbreaking technological achievement,” The Jerusalem Post reported.
The general said the weapon is “powerful and precise” and can intercept targets “no matter the weather conditions.”
During the intercept trials last week, the aircraft armed with a laser was able to shoot down targets within a range of about 1 kilometer, but the aim is to eventually extend the weapon’s range to tens, possibly even hundreds, of kilometers away. That kind of capability is likely still years away.
The Israeli defense ministry also hopes to expand this capability to other aerial platforms with the potential for offensive and defensive use..