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Laser Knocks Down Two Rockets

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WHITE SANDS MISSLE RANGE, N.M. — An experimental laser that someday may protect Israel's northern border blew up two rockets in simultaneous flight during a test in the New Mexico desert, the U.S. Army said. The Tactical High Energy Laser, or THEL, blew up a single artillery rocket in June. Monday's test was closer to conditions the THEL could face on the battlefield: multiple rockets coming from different directions. ``It's certainly a milestone for the program,'' said Gerda Sherrill, a spokeswoman at the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command at Huntsville, Ala. The command oversees the $200 million program being developed jointly by Israel and the United States. An unidentified official familiar with Monday's test told the Albuquerque Journal that the laser blew up both rockets on its third try. In each of two tests earlier in the day, the laser shot down only one rocket. The laser beam, which has a range of a few miles, heats the rockets until they explode. The biggest technical challenge for THEL lies in tracking the incoming rockets. THEL's targets are Katyushas, Russian-made short-range artillery rockets. Hezbollah guerrillas launch volleys of the 10-foot rockets from southern Lebanon into northern Israel. If deployed, THEL could become the first destructive laser system in the world to see action.

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