JERUSALEM — Israel is developing lasers to defeat drones, rockets, artillery, mortars and anti-tank guided missiles, its Defense Ministry announced Jan. 8, calling the effort a major breakthrough by its Directorate of Defense Research and Development.
“We are entering a new age of energy warfare in the air, land and sea,” said Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, head of the directorate. “The research and development investments made in the last years have placed the state of Israel among the leading countries in the field of high-energy laser systems.”
Lasers are seen as a major new frontier in combating munitions and drones. The U.S. Air Force has used a Raytheon-made high-energy laser to destroy “dozens of small drones,” according to the company. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ Drone Dome can also use lasers to address drone threats. Rheinmetall’s high-energy laser has also been used against small drone swarms.
Israel has faced an array of threats in recent years, including an armed drone launched from Syria in February 2018, drones that a team attempted to launch from Syria in August 2019, as well as 2,600 rockets fired by militants based in Gaza. Israel’s multilayered air defense architecture successfully confronted these threats thus far.
Three programs involving Rafael and Elbit Systems are developing high-energy laser demonstrators.
Both companies have been working on laser technology for years, but now the government wants them to focus on developing a “ground-based laser system to complement the capabilities of the Iron Dome system.” The Iron Dome air defense system is built by Rafael, which has previously teamed up with Raytheon on platform. This would add a new layer to Israel’s air defense architecture that includes David’s Sling and the Arrow missile defense system.
The programs are also meant to produce a maneuverable, mountable laser weapon to defend troops in the field, similar to an initial maneuver short-range air defense capability that travel with soldiers.
The companies are also charged with creating an aerial platform to intercept threats “above cloud cover” for the defense of wide areas.
Israel plans to conduct laser technology demonstrations throughout the year.
Seth Frantzman has been covering conflict in the Middle East since 2010 as a researcher, analyst and correspondent for different publications. In recent years he has focused on the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is the executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.