The Israeli Defense Ministry is seeking U.S. funding and expertise for its air and missile defense lasers, especially in the generation of electrical power. Israel’s current prototypes have achieved an output beam of “almost” 100 kilowatts, but the U.S. is already exploring 300-kW weapons capable of killing cruise missiles.
Tel Aviv soured on missile defense lasers after the U.S.-Israeli Nautilus project, also known as the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), a bulky weapon which was cancelled in 2005 after a decade in development. But THEL – like its contemporary, the U.S. Airborne Laser – was what’s called a chemical laser, needing large tanks of toxic chemicals to generate power. Modern lasers rely on electrical generators, making them much less hazardous.
So the Ministry of Defense has two of its leading contractors at work: Rafael is developing a ground-based laser, Elbit an airborne one. Elbit’s initial testing will probably occur on a manned aircraft, but then the laser will graduate to a drone, probably a variant of the Hermes-900, which has the payload – 350 kg (770 lbs)— and the endurance – up to 36 hours aloft – for long patrols awaiting an enemy missile or rocket attack. Demonstrations are planned for later this year…
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