A laser weapon, called The Self-Protect High-Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) passed a crucial test last month. Designed to defend U.S. Air Force aircraft from inbound air-to-air missiles, SHiELD torched several missiles in flight. Defensive lasers could revolutionize aerial warfare and lead to a second revolution with even more profound implications for air warfare—offensive lasers.
Air-t0-air missiles, guided missiles launched by an aircraft at another aircraft, were first developed in the 1940s. Previously, aircraft could only shoot down other aircraft within range of their guns, but the advent of jet engines made aircraft faster and able to swiftly move out of gun range. A guided weapon that could chase down even jet aircraft became a priority, and soon air forces of the world were fielding both infrared and laser-guided weapons.
On April 23, according to Air Force Magazine, a ground version of a laser that could someday protect military aircraft was tested at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The Demonstrator Laser Weapon System, a ground-based surrogate for the Self-Protect High-Energy Laser Demonstrator, or SHiELD, shot down several aerial-launched missiles. The goal of the SHiELD program is to equip a F-15 Eagle fighter jet with a defensive laser pod by 2021.