Laser Air Defense System Still Decade Away for U.S. Air Defense Artillery

The Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), referred to in the Israeli press, as the "Nautilus," successfully shot down a rocket for the first time Thursday during a test at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Israeli hopes to deploy the Nautilus, early next year to protect its population centers against short-range rocket attacks. The United States currently has no weapon systems capable of protecting soldiers or military assets involved in regional conflicts against short-range rocket, artillery, or mortar attacks. In fact, he U.S. Army doesn’t' plan to field its directed-energy weapon system--the Enhanced Area Air Defense (EAAD)--for at least another decade.

Why is Israeli, already the first nation with a domestic defense--Arrow 2--against ballistic missiles, rather than the United States destined to become the first nation to deploy a laser missile defense system?

"There are several possible reasons," explained Major Steve Peters, who headed the recently completed Air Defense Artillery Functional Area Assessment 2000. "The first is urgency. Israeli population centers are frequent targets of Katyusha rocket attacks launched by militia forces on its borders. The United States is not currently threatened by short-range rocket attacks, so there is not such an urgent need for this type of capability.

"Israel is a small country that can be defended by a small number of relatively static but strategically located Nautilus systems," he continued. "The U.S. Army, on the other hand, needs an easily transportable, highly mobile EAAD system that can operate alongside maneuver forces to protect them in a variety of battlefield situations, anywhere in the world.

"The same is true of Israel's Arrow 2 and the U.S. Army's THAAD [Theater High-Altitude Area Defense] system. "Israel plans to defend itself against short- and medium-range ballistic missile attacks with two Arrow 2 batteries located at only two strategic sites. The THAAD must meet much more stringent requirements."

Peters said, however, that Wednesday's intercept proves the technology envisioned for EAAD works.

"The THEL is a joint U.S.-Israel weapons development program," Peters said. "After the intercept, Lt. Gen. John Costello, Commanding General, U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense Command and a former chief of Air Defense Artillery, said the 'compelling demonstration of THEL's defensive capabilities proves that directed energy weapon systems have the potential to play a significant role in defending U.S. national security interests worldwide.'

"The intercept demonstrates that a small, compact, laser-based system, such as the envisioned EAADS, can do the job," Peters added. "It's an important milestone for U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery as well as the Israel Self Defense Force."

Posted 9 June 2000