Boeing’s portable drone-killing laser can aim silent, invisible laser, burns hole in target from hundreds of metres away
Aerospace giant Boeing has successfully tested a laser weapon that can track down an unmanned drone from hundreds of metres away and shoots them down in under a minute. This week Boeing held a media demonstration of its Compact Laser Weapons System in Albuquerque, N.M.
It is a surprisingly small portable system equipped with a two kilowatt laser, which can be transported in a few medium-sized boxes, and two techs can set it up in minutes. When set up, it looks to be about the size of a large microwave oven perched sideways on a heavy-duty tripod. The device directs at a silent, invisible laser target and tracks it as it moves and sets a drone aflame, which takes about 15 seconds to burn a in a UAV or a quadcopter. This is possible because all the energy in the laser beam is focussed in a very tiny spot.
Also, the tracking mechanism is precise enough to target specific parts of a drone. The laser is controlled with custom targeting software that runs on a laptop, with help from an Xbox 360 controller. It has an unlimited magazine like any laser weapon system, as long as there’s energy to power it either via battery pack or generator. In addition, the cost-per-shot is also extremely low.
However, this system is a lesser powerful version of Boeing’s High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), a truck-mounted laser that can destroy mortars in mid-flight. Even though HEL MD may one day be utilized on the battlefield, this new laser weapon system is meant only to keep drones away from sensitive areas, according to a report from Wired.
In a video of the demonstration posted online this Thursday, Isaac Neal, a Boeing engineer, said “Think of it like a welding torch being put on target but from many hundreds of metres away.”
“If you were on the receiving end of laser energy, you’d have no idea where it was coming from or what was even happening.”
“It’s something you’ve likely seen many times in science fiction movies, but it’s only now becoming a reality.”
The media demonstration was followed by a successful test in Point Mugu, Calif., that Boeing terms as a milestone. This is the first time the system has managed to disable a moving drone that was not held back by a tether.
Several systems designed to target unmanned aerial vehicles or drones are currently under development by Boeing. People keep flying their drones into unauthorized areas giving rise to a number of security concerns that can be used in spying, create danger for aircraft carrying human pilots and passengers or disturb wildlife. Also, the governments and militaries around the world are worried by the prospect of drones carrying explosives or chemical weapons.
In addition to drones, Boeing is also developing some larger laser systems to counter small boats or projectile weapons such as rockets and mortars.
Boeing expects the laser system to be ready for sale in the next year or two, where they would add an extra element to traditional missile defense systems.