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Gaza Shows Worth in Laser Missile Defense Systems

The success and the cost of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system proves the worth in developing laser missile defense systems, two analysts wrote in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend.

The Israelis spent about $3 million to shoot down a Hamas drone flown over the Gaza strip that cost maybe a few hundred dollars. The math just doesn't add up, wrote Dave Majumdar, a freelance defense journalist and analyst, and Erik Schechter, a defense analyst.

The costs, in fact, make the case for increased investment in laser systems to knock drones and missiles out of the sky. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is developing a laser system similar to the Iron Dome call the Iron Beam.

It only costs a few bucks to fire a laser versus the expensive costs of advanced missiles. Lasers also have the convenience of not running out. Swarming is a serious threat for air defense systems, especially with cheap micro drones hitting the market. A swarm of these drones could easily overwhelm an air defense system armed with a limited number of missiles.

The authors make the point that this is not a new concept, but it's one that has received quite a bit of scrutiny. Former President Ronald Reagan promised a Star Wars system that would protect the U.S. from Soviet Union nuclear missiles with a laser system in space. Of course, $30 billion invested and it still didn't produce what Reagan had in mind.

And then there was the U.S. Air Force's Airborne Laser. Until former Defense Secretary Bob Gates killed the program in 2007, the Air Force spent millions to develop a system on the premise of arming a fleet of cargo jets with laser systems in the nose constantly flying patrols to protect U.S. borders from ballistic missiles.

Developing missile defense systems is a complex business and one the Pentagon has struggled to master. But the Iron Dome has shown the importance of a missile defense system to protect from a series of missiles landing in Israel.

For the most part, the U.S. has a meager series of missile defense systems. Instead the country depends on its fleet of fighter aircraft and the threat of retaliation.

However, Majumdar and Schechter make the case that the time is now for the U.S. to start working to design its own laser missile defense system.

"The U.S. military could develop a 100-kilowatt laser-cannon defense system, capable of shooting down drones, short range rockets and mortar fire, in fewer than five years. Within a decade, the U.S. could have a far more powerful 300-kilowatt laser," Majumdar and Schechter wrote.

"And when that happens, enemies who would buzz, bombard and otherwise swarm forward-deployed American personnel would find their weapons destroyed -- literally -- in a flash of light."

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