Army Laser Passes Drone-Killing Test

Truck-mounted Army laser shoots down mortars and drones like those promised by Amazon, DHL.

Commercial package-delivery drones such as those revealed by Amazon and DHL could face danger from more than shotgun-toting, UAV-hunting yahoos following the successful test of a drone-killing laser by the U.S. Army.

Though it’s more likely to take aim at enemy observation drones than Amazon’s package-deliver ‘copters, the U.S. Army’s High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL-MD) did prove itself in tests last week by shooting down 90 incoming mortars and a series of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The original goal during the test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico was to burn out or blow up mortar rounds and blind the cameras or other sensors carried by drones. The laser proved capable enough to damage or slice off the tails of target drones, which brought them down, according to Terry Bauer, HEL MD program manager, as quoted in the Dec. 11 Army announcement of the test.

The quarter-sized beam of super-focused light set off the explosives in the 60-millimeter mortars in mid-flight, leaving the rest to fall “like a rock,” Bauer said. The laser could target only one mortar at a time, but could switch targets quickly enough to bring down several mortars fired in a single volley.

The laser and its power source are contained in a single 500-horsepower, four-axle truck but was directed by a separate Enhanced Multi Mode Radar system.

The next step is a move from New Mexico to a testing range in Florida early next year “to test it in ran and fog and things like that,” according to Bauer.

After that the laser itself will get upgrades first to 50 kilowatts and eventually to 100 kilowatts to increase the range of the weapon and reduce the amount of time it has to focus on a single target to destroy it, according to the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.

HEL MD is being developed for the by Boeing Co.’s Directed Energy Systems Unit, which is developing similar anti-aircraft weapons for the Navy and Air Force.

HEL MD is in its seventh year of development at a cost of $12.4 million for fiscal 2013.

There is still a lot of development to be done on the laser, its transportation and radar systems, so it is unlikely to be deployed before 2022.

 

Image: U.S. Dept. of Defense/U.S. Army

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