An energy weapon system built by Raytheon has clocked up an impressive score by taking out 45 drones during a recent US Army exercise. Part of this year's Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) at the Army's Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the test involved a directed energy weapon that combines Raytheon's high-power microwave beam and High Energy Laser (HEL) systems.
Drones, UAVs, and even something as low-tech as mortars are a major battlefield hazard. With new technology producing increasingly sophisticated and expensive platforms, the danger is also emerging that these expensive assets could be overwhelmed by new advanced, but cheap, autonomous flying machines that swarm into battle and swamp defenses.
A promising way to combat this is by using directed energy weapons. These fire beams that travel at the speed of light, can flick from target to target in a fraction of a second, can be adapted to suit the target, and cost about a dollar a shot as opposed to thousands or even millions of dollars for more conventional rounds.
At MFIX, Raytheon's approach was to combine a directed microwave beam operating from a fixed location with the HEL system installed on an Army dune buggy. The microwave weapon was designed to disrupt or destroy the target's electronics while the laser directly destroyed the targets it engaged. The goal was to produce a system that can engage incoming hostile targets at medium range.
According to Raytheon, the microwave developed under a US$2 million US Air Force Research Laboratory contract was able to take on multiple UAV swarms, knocking out 33 drones in batches of two or three at a time. Meanwhile, the HEL system identified, tracked, and engaged Class I (up to 20 lb) and II (up to 55 lb) UAVs, destroying 12 of them in the air. In addition, the laser destroyed six stationary mortar rounds.
"The speed and low cost per engagement of directed energy is revolutionary in protecting our troops against drones," says Dr Thomas Bussing, Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice president. "We have spent decades perfecting the high-power microwave system, which may soon give our military a significant advantage against this proliferating threat."
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more