US Ally Develops ‘Game-Changing’ Laser for Drone Defense

South Korea said it’s ready to start mass-producing a laser weapon that can shoot down drones at a fraction of the cost of conventional defense platforms.

The drone-killing system, called the Block-I, marks the beginning of Seoul’s “Star Wars” project to weaponize lasers, according to a statement on Thursday from the country’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), which handles defense procurement, development and production. An even more powerful version is being planned, which the agency predicted could be a “game changer” in the future.

One of Asia’s military heavyweights, South Korea was the eighth-largest arms exporter and ninth-biggest military spender last year. The country raised its defense budget by 4.4 percent amid the region’s increasingly hostile security environment, including nosediving relations with North Korea.

The Block-I “directly irradiates and neutralizes the light source laser generated from optical fibers on the target,” DAPA said, lending the weapon precision to effectively target small, fast-moving unmanned aerial vehicles at close range.

This image shared by South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration on July 11 features the country’s new laser weapon, the Block-I. South Korea is set to become the first country to operate mass-produced laser weapons….

Defense Acquisition Program Administration

The platform requires only electricity, firing silent, invisible laser beams that cost just $1.45 per shot. This is far cheaper than the $40,000 per Tamir missile fired from Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and Raytheon’s $480,000-per-unit ground-to-air Stinger missiles.

The Block-I neutralized 100 percent of its targets during a live-fire test, before being greenlit for combat deployment last year, per the statement.

While several countries, including the U.S., Israel, Turkey, Germany and Japan have also developed laser weapons, South Korea will be the first to deploy them on a large scale.

South Korea’s defense ministry didn’t immediately respond to a written request for comment.

The DAPA-funded Agency for Defense Development launched the $63.4-million project in 2019. South Korean aerospace company Hanwha Aerospace Co., which served as a pilot company during testing, is contracted to manufacture the weapons.

DAPA is already planning to develop a more powerful, longer-ranged anti-aircraft laser weapon: the Block-II. This will involve boosting the power of the laser beam to hundreds of kilowatts, with the aim of taking down larger targets like ballistic missiles and planes.

This could give South Korean forces an edge in the event of a conflict with the North.

Pyongyang continues to develop its ballistic missile program and has ramped up the pace of launches, including of nuclear-capable missiles. The Kim Jong Un regime has carried out about 100 since 2022, including of nuclear-capable missiles, according to the Congressional Research Service.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who favors closer security ties with Washington, Tokyo, and other U.S. allies, is currently attending the NATO summit in Washington as an observer, along with his Japanese and New Zealand counterparts and Australia’s defense minister.