TEL AVIV, Israel, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Israel has completed testing on Elbit Systems' SkyShield that protects commercial aircraft against surface-to-air missiles, one of a trio of advanced military systems the Jewish state has unveiled in recent weeks.
Earlier in February, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems introduced its new laser anti-missile shield, known as Iron Beam, at the Paris Air Show.
Two weeks later, Israel Aerospace Industries, flagship of Israel's defense sector, took the wraps off its new Super Heron unmanned aerial vehicle at the Singapore Air Show.
Israel's military started looking for a system to counter shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles after al-Qaida militants in Kenya fired two Soviet-era Strela-2 SAMs at an Arkia Airlines jetliner with 271 people aboard, mainly homebound Israeli vacationers, on Nov. 28, 2002.
The Boeing 757 had just taken off from the Indian Ocean city of Mombasa where the jihadists had carried out a suicide bombing at an Israel-owned hotel, killing 13 people. Both missiles missed the Israeli airliner.
As far as is known, there have been no other SAM attacks on Israeli civilian aircraft. But the threat from man-portable surface-to-air missile systems, known as Manpads, has grown since rebels seized large numbers of SAMs from Libyan arsenals following the downfall and death of Moammar Gadhafi in August 2011.
Islamist militants in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula shot down a military helicopter earlier this month and Saudi Arabia is pushing to provide rebel forces in Syria with Chinese SAMs to counter airstrikes by forces of the Damascus regime.
This has raised fears that in both combat zones, civilian aircraft could become targets.
The resort city of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba in southern Israel is close to the Sinai border and Israeli authorities fear tourist-filled airliners flying in and out of the city could be targeted from the desert.
Israeli air force Brig. Gen.Eitan Eshel, director of research and development at the Defense Ministry, said: "SkyShield has been validated under the most complex and sophisticated testing conditions ever conducted in Israel and is now ready to protect Israeli airliners."
SkyShield, also known as C-MUSIC, is the commercial version of Elbit's multi-spectral infrared countermeasures system used on military aircraft.
It employs laser technology and thermal imaging to jam the guidance systems of incoming SAMs and divert them away from their targets.
Israel's Channel 2 television reported in 2012 that SkyShield costs around $1 million per unit and will be installed on all aircraft flown by El Al, the national carrier, on "sensitive routes."
As for the Iron Beam weapon, Amit Zimmer, spokesman for state-owned Rafael, said the system's development is at an advanced stage using technology not far removed from fiction.
"It's exactly what you see in Stars Wars," he told reporters at the Singapore defense exhibition. "You see the lasers go up so quickly, like a flash, and the target is finished.
"It's very accurate. When you have lasers, you have an unlimited magazine."
Iron Beam is designed to complement Rafael's Iron Dome system that counters short-range rockets and artillery shells with radar-guided Tamir interceptor rockets.
Since its operational deployment in early 2012, Iron Dome has racked an impressive 84.6 percent kill rate against Palestinian rockets by official tally.
Iron Beam uses lasers to superheat the warheads of rockets or other projectiles with ranges of up to 4 1/2 miles and destroy them in flight.
The new weapon will become an extra layer of Israel's planned four-tier missile defense shield.
This also includes high-altitude Arrow 2 and 3 anti-ballistic missiles built by IAI and the Boeing Co. of the U.S., David's Sling, designed to intercept medium-range missiles and still under development by Rafael and the Raytheon Corp.
The main innovation of IAI's new medium-range high-altitude upper Heron UAV, displayed for the first time at the Singapore exhibition, is a more powerful engine that gives it an endurance time of 45 hours at a ceiling of 30,000 feet.
The UAV, with a wingspan of nearly 55 feet and a maximum payload of 990 pounds, was developed in secret.
Israel's Globes business daily reported the Super Heron, unlike earlier variants of the Heron, which use aviation gas, the new craft uses a 200-horsepower diesel engine that gives it a speed in excess of 150 knots and a faster rate of climb.