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South Korea to deploy 'StarWars' laser weapons to deal with North Korean drones | What are they?

Labelled as a 'gamechanger' in South Korea defence, the laser weapons are being developed by Hanwha Aerospace and are reportedly effective and cheap. These weapons are being deployed at a time of rising tensions between North and South Korea.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Seoul Published on: July 11, 2024 13:49 IST
Representative Image
Image Source : REUTERS Representative Image

Seoul: In a significant move, South Korea will deploy laser weapons to shoot down the drones by an increasingly aggressive North Korea this year as part of its "StarWars project". This step will make it the first country to deploy and operate such weapons in the military, the country's arms procurement agency said on Thursday.

The laser weapons have been developed by Hanwha Aerospace for the South Korean military and they are reportedly effective and cheap. Each laser shot costs 2,000 won ($1.45) and is quiet and invisible, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

"Our country is becoming the first country in the world to deploy and operate laser weapons, and our military's response capabilities on North Korea's drone provocation will be further strengthened," DAPA said, calling those weapons as a game changer in the future battlefield.

How do these laser weapons?

The lasers are effective in bringing down drones by burning down their engines or other electric equipment in drones with beams of light for 10 to 20 seconds, a DAPA spokesperson explained at a briefing. These weapons can "precisely strike small unmanned aerial vehicles and multicopters at close range". 

Each of these weapons is roughly the size of a shipping container with a laser mounted on top along with a radar or tracking device placed on one side of the platform, CNN reported. This unit measures 9 m by 3 m by 3 m (29.5 feet by 9.8 feet by 9.8 feet), and fires laser rays that are difficult if not impossible to detect before impact.

“It is invisible and noiseless, does not require separate ammunition and can be operated only when electricity is supplied,” the DAPA  said. If upgrade, future versions of these laser weapons can be used to take out bigger targets like aircraft and ballistic missiles. DAPA will release Block-I version of the weapons and is working on Block-II with increased output and range.

DAPA said the Block-I weapon has been in development for five years, with more than $63 million invested for its use. The system was evaluated suitable for combat in April 2023 after achieving 100 per cent success in shooting down targets in live-fire tests, according to DAPA.

Why is this weapon being used?

The use of laser weapons comes at a time of increasing tensions between North and South Korea. Five North Korean drones crossed into South Korea, which is technically still at war with Pyongyang, in December, prompting Seoul to scramble fighter jets and attack helicopters, and try to shoot them down, in the first such intrusion since 2017.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have increased since the North last year scrapped a 2018 pact aimed at de-escalating tensions near the military border drawn up under a truce ending the 1950-53 Korean War and then labelled the South "enemy No. 1". Pyongyang says it has been forced to boost its nuclear and missile programs to deal with US-led hostilities, viewing the joint drills with Seoul as an invasion rehearsal.

North and South Korea have both violated the armistice that governs their shared border by sending drones into each other's airspace, the United States has said. Meanwhile, countries like China and the United Kingdom are racing to develop and deploy laser weapons, also known as directed energy weapons, according to a US nonprofit think tank RAND Corporation.

(with inputs from Reuters)


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