U.S. to examine laser system for destroying short-range missiles
Israel developing rocket interceptor
New US Airborne Laser
WASHINGTON — The U.S. government plans to evaluate a laser-based anti-missile system.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will study the Skyguard laser-based missile defense system, which was developed by Northrop Grumman. The system has been marketed to Israel to intercept Palestinian-origin Kassam-class, short-range missiles fired from the Gaza Strip.
Homeland Security awarded Northrop Grumman a $1.9 million contract to evaluate solutions to counter the MANPADS threat to commercial aircraft and civil airports.
The Skyguard emerged from the now-defunct Israeli-U.S. Tactical High Energy Laser [THEL] project. In 2005, the U.S. Army canceled the Mobile THEL program, which sought to reduce a laser weapon system to fit a railroad car.
Northrop Grumman will develop an operational concept to use Skyguard in civil aviation. The 18-month contract is for component-level testing and to assess life-cycle costs.
"The ability of a high-energy laser to shoot down rockets, artillery and mortars has been demonstrated repeatedly with mature chemical laser technologies proven in the Tactical High Energy Laser, or THEL," said Alexis Livanos, president of Northrop Grumman's Space Technology group.
Industry sources said a U.S. contract could encourage Israel to procure Skyguard. In January 2006, a visiting Northrop Grumman team discussed a $500 million project to modify Skyguard for Israeli requirements.
"Skyguard will be a revolutionary approach to aviation security because it's based on the only laser system that has shot down a wide variety of airborne threats in flight," Livanos said.
DHS has limited the assessment of Skyguard to the current laser system prototype and has not sought additional development.
"As the prime contractor for the THEL test bed, Northrop Grumman is building on that system's nearly perfect record of performance and safety in Skyguard," said Mike McVey, president of Northrop Grumman's Directed Energy Systems business area. "Skyguard will be one-fourth the size and one-half the cost of THEL, while also being more powerful and more efficient."