JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A laser beam under joint Israeli-U.S. development destroyed a long-range rocket for the first time in a test in the skies over the American Southwest, Israel's Defense Ministry said on Friday.
Israel has sought an effective defense against ballistic missiles since 1991 when Iraq launched Scuds into the Jewish state during the first Gulf War. It has since developed the Arrow anti-ballistic missile with U.S. funding.
"This is a significant step forward," a ministry spokesman said of the test on May 4 of the "Nautilus" Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser (MTHEL) held at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Israel sees the Nautilus as another potential countermeasure to possible ballistic attack by enemies, which would include most Arab states and Iran. In turn, they see Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal as the biggest strategic threat to the region.
The Nautilus laser is being developed mainly by U.S. aerospace giant Northrop Grumman Corp with the help of several Israeli high-tech firms specializing in optics and military hardware.
"The (Nautilus) project has the potential to fill an important operational need for Israel," said Shmuel Keren, the Israeli military's director of weapons systems and infrastructure development.
"The (Nautilus) system can answer our need for a system which can intercept missiles and cruise missiles for which currently there is no effective solution."
The Defense Ministry declined to elaborate on the test or the exact range of the intercepted missile.
In earlier tests the MTHEL laser had successfully eliminated 28 short-range Katyusha rockets and five artillery shells in flight as well as several "hostile objects" on the ground.