The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has used a ground-based test surrogate laser weapon system to shoot down multiple air-launched missiles in flight.

The demonstration represents a key milestone for the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) programme.

The service performed a series of tests of the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS) at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range.

DLWS, acting as the surrogate for the SHiELD system, showcased its ability to engage and shoot down several air-launched missiles in flight during the tests.

The demonstration validates the effectiveness of the laser system against the target missiles.

Under the SHiELD programme, the US Air Force (USAF) is developing a directed energy laser system on an aircraft pod.

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The system, which will be installed on an aircraft, is intended to demonstrate self-defence of aircraft against incoming surface-to-air (SAM) and air-to-air (AAM) missiles.

“The ability to shoot down missiles with speed of light technology will enable air operation in denied environments.”

According to the USAF, the final SHiELD system will be much smaller and lighter. In addition, it will be ruggedised for an airborne environment.

AFRL Directed Energy Directorate director Dr Kelly Hammett said: “This critical demonstration shows that our directed energy systems are on track to be a game changer for our warfighters.”

High Energy Laser technology is expected to bring new capabilities to troops.

AFRL commander major general William Cooley said: “The successful test is a big step ahead for directed energy systems and protection against adversarial threats.

“The ability to shoot down missiles with speed of light technology will enable air operation in denied environments. I am proud of the AFRL team advancing our airforce’s directed energy capability.”

In November 2017, AFRL awarded a contract as part of the SHiELD programme to Lockheed Martin for the design, development and production of a high-power fibre laser to be tested on a tactical fighter jet.