The laser uses a low-powered system, making it suitable for use in urban environments such as airports without the risk of blinding anyone in the area.
A laser-based defense system capable of taking out attack drones even in urban environments has been developed by Israeli experts, who hope to roll out the system for a range of security uses, including at airports.
The system was developed by Prof. Amiel Ishaaya at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev after incendiary balloons started being launched into Israel in 2018, setting fire to farmland and causing widespread damage. Realizing that no one was looking into a way to prevent the balloons from posing a threat, Ishaaya, an expert on lasers, contacted industry experts. Together, they developed the Lahav-Or, or Light Blade defense system.
“We just worked on a laser system for cutting thick plastic for greenhouses. Kites and balloons are made of similar materials,” he recalled.
Together with Dr. Rami Aharoni and the backing of Border Police commander Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai, Ishaaya founded OptiDefense to develop the system, working on a shoe-string budget of just a few million shekels to develop a prototype within a year.
Last month, the team proved the efficacy of their system by downing explosive balloons traveling across the border from Gaza. The system was paired with Elbit’s SupervisIR threat detection system in the test, and operated by the Border Police. “We succeeded in downing everything that came within our field of fire,” Ishaaya said.
However, OptiDefense has set its sights on bigger targets.
Attack drones are becoming increasingly common threats, but at the moment require a communication link to either their handler or a GPS system in order to operate, meaning that they can be downed by electronic jamming systems – known as a “soft kill.” Future generations of drones are expected to do away with this weakness and operate completely autonomously. In order to neutralize the threat, a “hard kill” option would need to be employed to shoot the drone out of the air. This is where the Lahav-Or system comes in.
“In order to operate most high-powered laser defense systems, the airspace needs to be cleared for many kilometers around so the laser does not accidentally blind anyone. Our system operates on a lower frequency which makes it safe for urban environments. Airports, for example, could station our systems around to provide complete coverage without endangering any pilots or passengers,” says Ishaaya.
Other applications could include defending public events such as speeches or concerts. The system’s range is several kilometers.
OptiDefense is now seeking investment to further develop and refine the technology.