- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 10, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) Weapons that travel far faster than a speeding bullet are as little as five years from use in combat, say defense officials who used a laser to shoot an artillery shell out of the sky last week in a first-of-its-kind feat.
The Army used a high-energy laser built by TRW Inc. to heat the shell and cause it to explode in flight. The test was successfully repeated a second time.
The shell was fired from a howitzer at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. As it traveled at about 1,000 mph, it was tracked by radar and infrared heat sensors. Then it was locked onto and zapped by the laser beam traveling at light speed.
The Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser is a short-range weapon being developed with Israel, which wants it to destroy Katyusha rockets fired at its border villages by Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
The weapon, which looks like a searchlight, is one of a few laser devices the Pentagon is working on as part of missile defense.
In earlier tests, the Army used the laser to shoot down 25 Katyushas, both singly and in salvos. Artillery shells, however, generate far less heat than rockets do and are more difficult to track. Also, because rockets are pressurized, they are easier to blow up than shells.
"This was, science-wise, a significant accomplishment," said William Congo, a spokesman for the Army Space and Missile Defense Command.
Before, the only defense against a shell was to add more armor, move out of the way or dig in, said Dan Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Arlington. "Now, in theory, this kind of capability allows you to deny that kind of attack," he said.
The laser could be in use in 2007. Since development began in 1996, the Army, the Israeli Defense Ministry and TRW have spent $250 million on the project.
It is designed for use against shells, mortars, short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and air-to-surface munitions. It could also target helicopters and small aircraft, including robot drones.
Officials hope to shrink the weapon enough to allow it to be mounted on a truck, allowing it to be deployed where needed.
"It's movable; it's not mobile. What we are moving toward is a much smaller, mobile device," Mr. Congo said.
An artist's rendering of the weapon shows it assembled from two tractor-trailers.
The weapon would also have to be nimble enough to destroy multiple rounds as quickly as they are fired.
"Shooting down a single artillery shell is pretty cool, but artillery shells don't come in ones," said Christopher Hellman, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information in Washington.
Other related weapons the U.S. military is developing include the Airborne Laser, a $3.7 billion project to mount a laser aboard a Boeing 747. The flying laser is being built to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles shortly after launch.
Also under development are space-based lasers, which would also target ballistic missiles, and ground-based systems that could take out orbiting satellites.

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