Israel successfully tests high-power laser interceptor

The defense system has for the first time passed a test to intercept drones, missiles, anti-tank missiles and other aerial threats in multiple scenarios.

By Erin Viner

The Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) at the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMoD) has successfully completed a series of ground-breaking tests with a high-power laser interception system against steep-track threats, said a statement TV7 obtained from the IMoD Spokesperson’s Office. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is the system’s main developer, in cooperation with Elbit Systems.

“Israel is one of the first countries in the world to successfully develop high-power laser technology at an operational standard with operational interception capabilities,” said the statement, adding that, “The tests are the first phase of a multi-year program led by the DDR&D and defense industries.”

In June 2021, when Israel first unveiled  the prototype interceptors that would use lasers to super-heat incoming drones or the kinds of rockets favored by Iran-backed guerrillas, defense officials estimated the systems would be ready for action in 2025.  Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, however, later announced the roll-out was being accelerated as part of a plan to protect the nation with such technologies and reduce the high costs currently incurred when shooting down aerial threats.

“Within a year already the IDF will bring into action a laser-based interception system, first experimentally, and later operationally, first in the south, then in other places,” he said in a 1 February speech at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

Gaza, from which the Islamist Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups have regularly shelled Israeli border towns, is to the south; while the Iran-backed Hezbollah proxy is based in Lebanon just over Israel’s northern frontier. Jerusalem has been working to counter what it sees as Iranian efforts to encircle Israel with terror groups capable of paralyzing national infrastructure with relatively inexpensive barrages.

The laser system is “an effective and economically efficient addition to Israel’s multi-tiered air defense array,” said the Defense Ministry. It is the latest addition to Israel’s current air defenses based on Iron Dome (IDDS), David’s Sling and Arrow systems that launch interceptor missiles costing tens of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars each.

“The equation will be overturned – they will invest much, and we little,” Bennett told the INSS.

“If we can intercept a missile or rocket with an electrical pulse that costs a few dollars, we will essentially neutralize the ring of fire that Iran has set up … This new generation of air defense can also serve our friends in the region, who are also exposed to grave threats from Iran and its proxies,” said the Israeli leader.

Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz said upon completion of the tests that it “marks the first time that a high-power, Israeli-made laser system successfully intercepted various targets, constituting a breakthrough on a global scale.

“This is thanks to Israeli innovation, the defense establishment, and the industries that provide security for Israeli citizens,” said Lt. Gen. Gantz, underscoring that, “Our goal is to achieve operational status as soon as possible, which will enable an efficient, inexpensive, and innovative means of defense. This system will save lives and will also allow operational flexibility.”

“The laser is a game-changer thanks to its easily operated system and significant economic advantages,” said the Head of R&D at DDR&D Brigadier General Yaniv Rotem. Saying that the “next step is to continue the development and initial system deployment within Israel,” he stated that, “Our plan is to station multiple laser transmitters along Israel’s borders throughout the next decade.”

DDR&D Chief Brigadier General (Res.) Daniel Golds said, “This technological breakthrough has come at a time when the operational demand for the system is at an all-time high.”

Rafael CEO, Major General (Res.) Yoav Har Even expressed pride in the “remarkable capabilities” of the “world’s most innovative high-power laser” upon completion of the initial series of tests, hailing the “this extraordinary development” as “a significant milestone in the process to achieve operational capability” toward “preserving and developing technological capabilities to ensure Israel’s qualitative advantage.”