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Air Force’s SHiELD shoots down airborne missiles with laser

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to the 9th Bomb Squadron takes off from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, May 8, 2018. (RIVER BRUCE/U.S. AIR FORCE)

The Air Force said it successfully shot missiles out of the sky with a ground-based laser system that it plans to make small enough to fit on its aircraft.

The Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator Advanced Technology Demonstration Program, or SHiELD, conducted the tests on April 23, an Air Force Research Laboratory statement said Friday.

“The successful test is a big step ahead for directed energy systems and protection against adversarial threats,” said Maj. Gen. William Cooley, AFRL commander. “The ability to shoot down missiles with speed-of-light technology will enable air operation in denied environments.”

During the tests at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the laser system engaged and shot down multiple air-launched missiles in flight. It was not immediately clear whether the laser system shot down the targets one after the other, or if they were downed individually in separate tests.

The SHiELD program began in 2017.

The Air Force said last year that it intends to reduce the size and weight of the SHiELD system by 2021 for placement on supersonic aircraft, which could include fighter jets and the B-1 bomber. Plans call for the laser to be mounted as a pod under the wings or the fuselage to defend against surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles.

The Air Force has also looked at testing a laser on a refueling tanker and special operators have shown interest in arming the AC-130 gunship with an air-to-ground laser, service officials told the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News last year.

The Navy has also tested a laser on a warship in the Persian Gulf to defend against drones and small boats, with plans to expand directed-energy weapon use in the fleet in the next decade.

In September 2017, Lockheed Martin demonstrated its Advanced Test High Energy Asset, or ATHENA, in tests run by the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command at White Sands Missile Range. The laser brought down five Outlaw drones.


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