US Air Force gets drone-killing laser
The US Air Force has taken delivery of its first high-energy laser for shooting down Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). Built by Raytheon, it will be used in overseas deployments as part of a year-long experiment to test the laser weapon and to train operators in real-world scenarios.
Laser weapons are starting to move out of the realm of science fiction and into the real world, and it seems that the US Air Force is looking at the small end to deal with UAVs. It may appear odd to use a high-tech energy beam to take out a quadcopter, but in many ways, it's a neat match of threat and capabilities.
Though most of them are small, drones can be a major threat in the wrong hands as shown by recent events where such devices have been used to attack oil production facilities and shut down airports. At the same time, solid-state laser weapons are still relatively low powered in absolute terms, but they have already shown themselves effective in field tests against UAVs.
This is because a laser can not only deliver a kill-shot that can destroy or, at the very least, blind a UAV but it can do so at the speed of light and at the cost of a dollar per round. In the case of Raytheon, the company has developed a High-Energy Laser Weapon System (HELWS) around its Multi-Spectral Targeting System, which is an electro-optical/infrared sensor that can detect, identify, and track hostile drones, allowing the laser to lock on and engage in a matter of seconds.
Raytheon's new laser is mounted on a small all-terrain vehicle and can use a single charge from a standard 220-volt mains outlet to not only fire a dozen laser shots, but also provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. Hooked to a generator, it can deliver a near-infinite number of shots.
"Five years ago, few people worried about the drone threat," says Roy Azevedo, president of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems. "Now, we hear about attacks or incursions all the time. Our customers saw this coming and asked us to develop a ready-now counter-UAS capability. We did just that by going from the drawing board to delivery in less than 24 months."
The video below introduces the Raytheon High-Energy Laser Weapon System.