Israel: the IDF's anti-explosives laser system

IEDs are known to represent a major threat to both vehicles and individuals, not only in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Many of them are planted near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. A mounted laser system has been successfully used to safely and remotely detonate one.

Israel Thor the IDF s anti explosives laser system destroys an IED
Thor, Israel's anti-explosives laser system (Picture source : Defence Update)

As reported by yNet, the IDF chose to make relatively rare use of a vehicle mounted Directed Energy Warfare (DEW) system called THOR (developed by the Israeli Rafael Advanced Defense Systems) to destroy a large explosive device that was discovered on the border of the Gaza Strip last December, planted by two terrorists. The radius and fragments from its explosion led the army to conclude that, would it have been triggered near IDF troops, the results would have been fatal.

THOR is a vehicle mounted Directed Energy Warfare (DEW) system for stand-off neutralization of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), Un-Exploded Ordnance (UXO), mines and other explosive threats, exposed or located above ground and detected by other means. It comprises an advanced fire control sub-system which executes an automatic computation of the correction angles required in order to hit the target accurately with the machine gun (depending on the range) and also automatic computation of the focusing required for the laser beam in order to achieve the optimal energy concentration at the exact range at which the target is located.

The combination of the advanced fire control capability with the user-friendly Man Machine Interface achieves the optimal performance of the system at all its operational ranges, without exposing the crew to un-necessary dangers ensuing from the activation of the IEDs or UXOs being neutralized.

The laser system has been in use for a number of years by IDF forces, mainly in the security sectors on the northern and Gaza borders, and aims to remotely and safely neutralize threats such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), unexploded ordnance, mines and other explosive threats.

Use of lasers in warfare is carried out sparingly, and often surreptitiously, due to legal restrictions enshrined in international conventions that prohibit its use, for fear of mortally injuring humans and causing fatal burns.

The soldier who operates the mounted system inside the vehicle's interior has two choices in neutralizing devices: either firing a bullet from a mounted .50 heavy machine gun at the bomb in order to blow it up, or project a laser beam at the cargo, which causes its rapid heating and detonation without the effect of the blast and noise, within a few seconds.

Both options are controlled by a joystick and a display with a clear separation between them. The sights of the system can be operated both in daylight and at night time. They can be used to probe the charge remotely, from a distance of several hundred meters.

Defence Web reports a prediction according to which, in the next few years, the use of laser systems will be increased to tackle other threats, such as drones, which have already been used by organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. In recent years, UAVs have indeed been used by terror organizations in Lebanon and the Gaza strip to penetrate Israeli airspace.

All these attempts were encountered by air-to-air and surface-to-air weapons systems. But now a new threat is emerging: fast attacks by swarms of armed UAVs. The threat was exposed when the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed its forces in Syria were attacked by a swarm of home-made UAVs. It was the first time such a coordinated assault has been reported in a military action.

According to the Ministry of Defense, Russian, forces at the Khmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility foiled the attack. Russia’s official spokesman added that at nightfall, Russia air defences detected 13 unidentified small targets approaching the Russian military bases: "Ten assault drones were approaching the Khmeimim air base, and another three the base in Tartus."

According to the Russian statement, six of the UAVs were intercepted by Russian electronic warfare units, with three being brought to land outside the base and the remaining three exploding on contact with the ground. Another seven were "eliminated" by Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missiles fired by the Russians, with the bases reporting no casualties or damage, the statement explained. While the UAVs look primitive, the Russians said they were armed with explosives and launched from a site more than 50 km away.

The Ministry said a technical examination indicates the UAVs would have an effective attacking range of about 100 km. It's still not known who launched the swarm, but the Russians believe that the technology used was too advanced for local militants.

Many countries in the region are developing armed UAVs. The most recent one to be exposed is the Iranian Muhajer-6 equipped with a new home-made smart bomb dubbed “Ghaem,” It is the first UAV of the Mohajer series that is armed with a guided weapon.

The Iranian effort to develop new armed UAVs and is worrying Israel. In recent years the Israeli Air Force (IAI) has foiled attempts by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza to penetrate Israeli airspace, probably for intelligence purposes.

The growing threat has gotten Israeli companies to develop countermeasures. Last year, IAI unveiled the Drone Guard system for UAV detection, identification and flight disruption. The ELTA division of IAI has developed a special system that integrates a 3-Dimensional (3D) radar and Electro-Optical (EO) sensors for detection and identification, as well as dedicated Electronic Attack (EA) jamming systems for disrupting UAV flight.

To detect low signature, low-level and low-speed airborne targets, ELTA has adapted to this specific mission its 3D radars, which include the ELM-2026D, ELM-2026Band ELM-2026BF for short (10km), medium (15km) and long (20 km) ranges, respectively, with special UAV detection and tracking algorithms, as well as adapting them with EO sensors for visual identification of the target.

In order to disrupt the hostile UAV, ELTA has developed advanced adaptive jamming systems which can be used in concert with its detection and identification sensors, or as a continuously operated stand-alone system. The jamming disrupts the UAV's flight and can either cause it to return to its point-of-origin (‘Return Home’ function) or to shut down and make a crash landing.

The armed UAV threat is considered to be very serious by other countries. Last year IAI, through ELTA North America, was awarded a $15 553 483 firm-fixed-price contract to supply anti-UAV systems to the U.S Air Force. According to the agreement ELTA North America will provide the procurement, delivery, and training of 21 Man Portable Aerial Defense System kits.

Rafael has also developed an anti-UAV system. Its Drone Dome has 360° coverage and is designed to detect, track, and neutralize UAVs classified as threats flying in no-fly zones. First, the threat is detected and identified by radar and EO/IR sensors. The data is combined and correlated and alerts the operator to the hostile UAV. The system initiates either an automatic interference operation, as per pre-defined rules in the command and control engine, or manual operation by the operator. When the threat reaches the neutralization area, the hostile UAV is neutralized by activation of the directional global navigation and radio frequency inhibitor/jammer system.

IMI Systems has also developed a system against UAVs. In late October 2017, the Red Sky 2 Drone Defender System of IMI Systems protected thousands of participants during the royal funeral ceremony of the former King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX). Four mobile Red Sky 2 Drone Defender Systems were purchased by the Thai Air Force in September.