US Air Force Zaps Drones in Laser Test

In a recent series of tests at the Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake, Calif., a trailer-mounted laser was able to knock five unmanned aircraft out of the sky.

The demo, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, was a test of the Mobile Active Targeting Resource for Integrated eXperiments (MATRIX), an experimental system developed by Boeing Directed Energy Systems. According to a company news release, the test showed the ability to take down a hostile unmanned aircraft with a “relatively low laser power” weapon. According to AFRL, MATRIX uses a two and a half kilowatt-class high energy laser.

While ballistic missile defense may get all of the press, some homeland-security experts worry about a more low-tech threat: drone technology. Bill Baker, chief scientist of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate, said in a statement that the shootdowns “validate the use of directed energy to negate potential hostile threats against the homeland.”

It’s not clear, exactly, how the lasers shot down the drones: Whether they disrupted the aircraft controls, or burned a big hole in them. (An AFRL news release said the drones were “acquired, tracked and negated at significant ranges” but offered few additional details.)

As part of the counter-drone tests, Boeing also shot down an unmanned aircraft with its Laser Avenger system, a Humvee-mounted directed-energy air defense system the company is developing. They also test-fired a lightweight 25mm machine gun integrated on the Laser Avenger platform (the machine gun fired at a static target board, not a drone). The idea behind this is to use good ol’ kinetic energy – i.e., a stream of hot lead – as a backup if the directed energy system fails to down the target.

Boeing has been developing a range of directed-energy weapons for the military, including the Airborne Laser (a Boeing 747 reconfigured as a ballistic-missile shooter), the Advanced Tactical Laser (a laser gunship), and the High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (a mobile laser cannon that can shoot down rockets and mortars).

By Nathan Hodge
November 18, 2009

Source: Wired

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