July 12, 2006, Redondo Beach, CA--Northrop Grumman Corporation has taken the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), a testbed deuterium fluoride (DF) laser weapon, and further developed it into a laser-based air defense system the company calls Skyguard. Northrop Grumman says the new system has higher power than older systems and a larger beam, and has benefited from significant technological advances, although no technical specs were disclosed.
The United States and Israel embarked on the THEL program in 1996; the program moved from initial concept to operational system in four years. In June 2000, the THEL conducted the first successful shoot-down of an operational Katyusha rocket in flight. The original THEL design includes a 3.8-micron-emitting DF laser, target-acquisition radar, automated battle management/command, control and communications, and pointer tracker for fire and beam control.
Like earlier systems developed by Northrop Grumman, Skyguard is a multimission, soldier-operated, compact, transportable laser-weapon system designed for field deployment and operations. "We believe that no other weapon of any kind, or any system being developed today, can offer the kind of protection we've proven Skyguard can provide," said Alexis Livanos, president, Northrop Grumman Space Technology. "Skyguard offers the earliest possible implementation of an operational laser weapon system for defense against a wide range of threats."
A single Skyguard system can defend deployed forces, a large military installation, and/or a large civilian population or industrial area, according to Northrop Grumman.. One Skyguard system is capable of generating a protective shield of about 10 km in diameter. Like the THEL testbed, Skyguard is a modular and flexible system that will accommodate improved laser and beam control technologies as they become available.
"The THEL Testbed has demonstrated unequivocally that lasers can engage and destroy rocket, artillery and mortar threats in flight," noted Mike McVey, vice president of Northrop Grumman's Directed Energy Systems business area. "This testbed has been remarkably successful. To date, it has shot down dozens of live threats, including long- and short-range rockets, mortars, and artillery projectiles, in very realistic attack scenarios and under simulated operational conditions such as surprise attacks and mixed threats."