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as a research platform, rather than to defend Israel's northern border, as originally intended (although it still might go to Israel if that nation wants it for an emergency). U.S. and Israeli military authorities would like to develop a smaller, mobile version of the THEL demonstrator at White Sands. Both the Israeli Defense Force and the U.S. Army are interested in fielding a short-range battlefield defensive laser system that would be able to shoot down artillery rockets, mortar shells, and—possibly—aircraft and cruise missiles. The development of a mobile THEL has been estimated to require 5 to 7 years of additional effort.
In tests starting in June 2000, it was fired at 16 rockets and one winged insect that landed on the beam emitter at precisely the wrong time. Some of those rockets were fired simultaneously to test THEL's ability to engage multiple incoming targets. The demonstrator was built with combat capability in mind, and officials had discussed moving it from White Sands to Israel. Despite the successful tests of 2000, there has been a growing concern that the demonstrator was not ready for action. Israel has also expressed concerns that a fixed THEL would become a difficult-to-defend target for attacks. The changing situation in Israel has made a fixed THEL less acceptable. During the summer of 2000, Israel abandoned its occupied territory in southern Lebanon, allowing Hezbollah to launch attacks much closer to the Israeli border. More THELs, or a mobile system, would now be needed to properly defend the border area.
The U.S. and Israeli governments are reported to be completing an agreement that would provide for the development of a mobile THEL. The contemplated mobile system would be carried on a few heavy trucks (one truck would have the laser, another would have the rocket-tracking radar, and others would carry the fuel chemicals). The design objective would be to produce a system light enough to be transported by a C-130 cargo plane.
The committee believes that the Department of the Navy should certainly continue to track the progress of the U.S.-Israeli THEL and consider it for possible application in a maritime environment.
The Israeli Arrow Program is a cooperative program funded largely with BMDO money. It is designed to engage both endo-atmospherically and high in the atmosphere, much like THAAD. While quite large, Arrow uses several technologies similar to those being pursued by the Navy systems and will yield useful information on fragment warhead lethality and seeker phenomenology.