A laser air defence weapon being developed by the USA and Israel has been delayed by at least seven months by technical problems with the laser device and the tracking system.

The TRW Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) - previously known as Nautilus - would be used to defend northern Israeli cities against short-range rockets, such as the Russian-made Katyusha, used by guerrillas. Major components include a chemical laser, beam control system, fuel supply, and laser exhaust equipment.

The $132 million THEL advanced concept technology demonstration project is about 34 months into a 38-month programme. The USA is contributing $107 million of the total funds. System components have been built, but testing at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, has been delayed from last December to July due to problems with chemical flow control valves and the low-power tracking laser used to follow the rockets.

THEL is not considered to be a mobile system since the components must be transported by large trucks and set up on concrete sites.

As designed, the US Army has no interest in the weapon, but it has drafted a mission need statement for a mobile laser weapon that could be used to shoot down battlefield targets.

Experts say a smaller solid-state laser would be needed for a mobile, ground-based high-energy laser weapon which could not be fielded until at least 2025.

Source: Flight International