On January 8, 2020, Israel announced an unspecified breakthrough of a laser-based missile interception system to complement the Iron Dome system. The system is still being developed and would take some time to be deployed as a weapons system.1 Since its invention in 1960, LASER, or light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, has had high global appeal as a weapon.
Substantial research has been undertaken by the major powers, with the first space-based x-ray laser anti-ballistic missile weapon system conceptualised by the United States (US) during the Cold War. Codenamed Project Excalibur, the project was shelved in 1992 due to funding issues and disintegration of the Soviet Union.
According to the Israeli ministry of defence, the breakthrough is in power as well as accuracy of the laser beam overcoming atmospheric disturbances. In this regard, Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, Head of the Directorate of Defence Research and Development (DDR&D), stated: “We are entering a new age of energy warfare in the air, land and sea. The R&D investments made by the DDR&D in the last years have placed the State of Israel among the leading countries in the field of high-energy laser systems. Throughout the year 2020 we will conduct a demo of our capabilities."
It is not known whether the US assisted Israel on the current laser-based interception system. In the past, it has often assisted Israel in developing other state-of-the-art military systems such as the David’s Sling and Arrow missile defence system. The US has in recent times conducted advanced research in laser weapons, with 30-kilowatt laser guns installed on naval ships since 2014.
Plans are reportedly underway to install and operationalise a 150-kilowatt laser gun on a small naval ship with the capability to strike down a drone or sink a boat.4 While Russia has also apparently experimented with a laser weapon system called Peresvet, its capabilities are not known.
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