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U.S.-Israeli laser knocks out rockets in defense test
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- A high-energy laser weapon designed to defend Israel's northern border with Lebanon has successfully shot down two Russian-built test rockets at once, the U.S. Army said Wednesday.
The test Monday at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico marked the first trial of the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) against multiple rockets in the air at the same time.
The THEL "technology demonstrator" -- the world's first high-energy laser for operational use -- shot down a lone Katyusha rocket at White Sands for the first time on June 6.
"We've just turned science fiction into reality," Lt. Gen. John Costello, head of the Huntsville, Ala.-based Army Space and Missile Defence Command (SMDC), said of the first shooting down of a 10-foot-long (three-metre) 122 mm unguided rocket.
In Monday's test, the rockets, similar to those that Hizbollah fundamentalist guerrillas have fired at Israel from Lebanon, were flying in 16-km (10-mile) trajectories at more than 330 meters (1,000 feet) a second when destroyed by the laser, SMDC spokeswoman Gerda Sherrill said.
The system, which destroys targets with beams of intense light, is tentatively scheduled to be delivered to Israel by the end of February in the absence of further funding, she said.
The handover could be delayed for another year or more if Israel and the United States reach agreement on the proposed joint development of a more mobile version dubbed MTHEL, SMDC officials said.
In that case, the THEL -- which includes a fire-control radar, pointer-tracker and command centre that take up several truck-sized shipping containers -- would remain at White Sands for additional development, testing and evaluation, SMDC said.
TRW (TRW.N) Inc., the program's prime contractor, had no comment on the test-firings or on talks about a possible mobile version, said Brooks McKinney, a spokesman for the company's Redondo Beach, Ca.-based Space and Electronics Group.
In any case, an unspecified number of additional tests against multiple armed targets are to be carried out before the system is delivered to Israel, the SMDC said. The next are scheduled for Sept. 8 or 11, depending on the weather at White Sands.
The latest test marked a major milestone in the four-year-old, $250-million THEL programme. Originally, it had been scheduled for July 17 but was postponed to avoid complicating the Middle East peace talks then under way at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., SMDC officials said.
In another development, a team led by Science Application International Corp. said Wednesday it had successfully demonstrated at the Army's Huntsville-based Redstone Arsenal a state-of-the-art fiber optic link for a planned U.S. system to defend large "theaters" against short-, medium- and long-range ballistic missiles.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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