Israel's New Defence Against Drones

Israel claims to have successfully shot down several UAVs using a high-powered laser weapon.

Anita Hawser
23 June 2021


Laser weapon systems


The Israeli Air Force has successfully intercepted several unmanned aerial vehicles using an airborne High-Power Laser Weapon System (HPL-WS). The UAVs were intercepted at various ranges and flight altitudes as part of a test series led by the Directorate of Defense R&D in the Israeli Ministry of Defense (MoD), together with Elbit Systems and the IAF.

A High-Power Laser system was installed on an aircraft and tested in a number of scenarios. The MoD says it successfully intercepted and destroyed all of the UAVs that were launched throughout the test. It marks the first phase in a multi-year programme to develop a laser system against a variety of long-range threats.

Israel is one of the first countries in the world to successfully use a laser weapon system on board an aircraft. The US has been developing laser weapon systems for a number of years and has tested them on board armoured vehicles and naval vessels. Lockheed Martin is developing its Tactical Airborne Laser Weapon System, which will be used to shoot down missiles. It had planned to put a compact laser on a fighter aircraft this year, but the project was delayed due to technical problems.

Israeli Defense Minister, Benny Gantz said the project is an important milestone in Israel's development of multi-tier defences. “The laser system will add a new layer of protection at greater ranges and in facing a variety of threats – securing Israel while saving on the costs of interception.”


Watch Israel's Airborne Laser Weapon In Action 


Credit: Israel Ministry of Defense Spokesperson's Office


Iron Dome vs. Laser Weapon Systems

In the recent Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza, Hamas' military arm Al-Qassam used armed drones in attacks on Israel. Some of these drones were reportedly shot down by Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system. But laser weapon systems have many advantages, including a low cost per interception, the ability to effectively intercept long-range threats at high altitudes regardless of weather conditions, and the ability to defend vast areas.

The airborne, High-Power Laser System will complement Israel’s multi-tier missile defense array, which includes the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow missile interceptor systems.

We believe that the use of a high-power laser to carry out low-cost airborne interception of rockets and hostile unmanned aircraft, closer to their launching areas and away from population centers, offers a significant change in Israel’s defense capabilities,” said Oren Sabag, general manager of Elbit Systems ISTAR. 

Countries that are developing laser weapon systems include the UK, the US, Russia, China and India.