Laser and Dual-Use Export Control

Photo illustration US Navy
141117-N-PO203-072 ARABIAN GULF (Nov. 17, 2014) The Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (ASB(I) 15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)

By Amiram Halevy

Miniaturized particle accelerators, focused destruction of cancer tumors, a wide array of military applications, and more – this is only a small part of the potential of the use of short and powerful laser pulses.

Laser and Export Control

There are several Israeli companies which manufacture and export laser products and technologies for various uses, military and civilian. I visited many of them as a Government regulator, some of them had to apply to the Ministry of Economics for export licenses.

The laser field is controlled by the Wassenaar Agreement, under the dual-use list – category 6. By the defense control decree –  article 15, article 17, article 19. In the industrial/civilian field, a company has to request a permit in case the laser it is manufacturing passes the limits on various parameters, e.g. the beam quality (single or multi), power and wavelength. 

What is Laser

Ordinary light sources, such as an electric bulb, emit photons in all directions, usually in a large wavelength spectrum. They are also not coherent, i.e. there is no constant phase for all the photons emitted/ The laser beam is different in that it emits identical photons, in wave-length and phase, which lead to a narrow and coherent beam (from the point of view of its spatial divergence) – the qualities that make laser so useful.

Short and Powerful Laser Pulses

The ability to accelerate particles into high energies with low costs by most of the current methods opens up a vast array of possibilities for various applications, according to the French scientist Gerard Moreau who had visited in Israel earlier this year. He said it was possible to use these acceleration capabilities in order to accelerate protons for cancer treatments. The advantage of the protons is, he said “that if you use electrons tu X-rays in order to destroy a tumor, you damage everything on the way to the tumor.” However, protons behave differently – the energy they have dictates the ability to control the point they halt and dismantle the energy aggregated at the beam.”


An Israeli company I visited succeeded in producing a laser capable of concentrating beams from several sources in parallel connection to a single point without creating depreciation. This enables the use of lasers with lower power and low electricity consumption, capable of achieving cut power similarly to much powerful lasers. The concentrating process is executed by reaching concentration coherence through a physical process, using an algorithm developed by the company.

This way, the company could reach a high-quality product without the need to have a license. A high power laser is controlled, due to the assumption that high power creates a more powerful beam, one that could cause more damage. The company succeeded in differentiating the two, i.e. to reach a powerful beam even with low power, eventually making the product an uncontrolled product for the purpose of export. However, this raises the question of how do you define the product from the control point of view. Should it be referred based only from the result aspect, then the product is controlled, or with reference to the end result i.e. the power, and then the product is not controlled. Wassenaar regulators will have to cope with this dilemma.

It is therefore recommended to any company developing and exporting laser technology to consult and find out whether the technology is under export control and under which control regime.

Major Industry Use Cases

There is a vast array of uses, including precision cutting for the vehicle or diamond industries, 3D printing, micron connection and melting, LDI laser imaging, to high-quality product marking, etc.

Each wave-length serves a different application. Red laser, for example, serves for sensors or CD players, while blue laser can serve for data storage, medical applications, etc. Laser-based cutting or drilling systems supply unique capabilities, e.g. microscopic material drilling, various silicon slices manipulations at the semiconductor industry, etc. 

Laser cutting systems offer much higher quality and efficiency than other solutions, especially when there are restrictions to mechanical or chemical processing. In many cases, the laser is the only solution available for the required processing.

Autonomous Vehicle Industry Laser: LiDAR

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology measures distance through a laser beam on the target. The technology is based on launching laser beams and measuring the distance of the objects with accordance with the time required for the signals to return to the device.

Laser Eavesdropping

A laser system developed by a Bar-Ilan University research team enables the distant eavesdropping on a mobile phone, including the reception of the conversation from the distant side of the line. The ability to achieve spatial coherence also enables an efficient spatial design of the light beam. For example, small projectors developed recently are activated by batteries similar to the ones in mobile phones. The projectors are based on powerful light lasers which use the battery energy in a highly efficient way. 

Distant CBRN Identification

A laser-based ‘radar’ system was developed by the Israeli firm ITL, an innovative technology for the identification of chemical materials from dozens of meters through a laser beam that does not risk the body or eyes. The device enables the screening of vehicles and people from a distance to check whether they are carrying drugs and explosives or have been in contact with them.

These materials, according to the company, can be on the person’s body, clothes or belongings. The person can be dozens of meters away and does not have to stand still, the device can “read” the material traces even on movement. 

Military Laser Uses

The US Army is currently operating one operational laser cannon, with 30 kw power, on the USS Ponce. Following the success of the naval laser cannon, the US Army started developing laser weapons over aerial platforms. The Pentagon stated that Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Atomics won $9 million R&D contracts each, within the framework of the second stage of the program for the development of a laser cannon with varying intensities, to be installed on an unmanned aerial vehicle.

In 2016 the US Air Force tested a laser cannon installed on an Apache helicopter. Raytheon installed a laser cannon integrated with MTS – Multi-Spectral Targeting System, a command and control system for detection, tracking and stabilizing a laser beam through infrared sensors.

The current research is designed to obtain a system that would be able to destroy intercontinental missiles already at their boost phase, long before they enter the atmosphere, and still over the launching area. Distant control is critical, as well as the capability to communicate with external sensors. 

Lockheed Martin is currently developing an optic fiber-based laser cannon for the US Air Force.

Laser Developments in Israel

Among the technologies developed in Israel, Rafael is developing the “Iron Beam” for rocket and mortar defense, based on solid-state laser. 

Elbit Systems developed the “Sky Shield” system, based on an advanced laser technology which jams the missile launched towards the aircraft and diverts it from its track. Elbit was chosen by the Israeli Ministry of Transportation to defend the Israeli aviation companies carriers.

To Sum Up

The laser technology opens up horizons and imagination, and even when taking into account the current developments available (of which only a few were mentioned here), there is no doubt that a long and exciting way is still awaiting us. 

Every company which develops and exports laser technology should consult and check whether the technology is export-controlled for exports and under which control regime.


Amiram Halevy has served as Israel’s economic representative in Japan, India, Spain, and Australia, and up until recently, has held the position of Director of Export Control for Dual-Use Goods in the Israeli Ministry of Economics, a position he held for 10 years.