– Army’s New Laser Cannon Blasts Drones Out of the Sky, Even in Fog (Wired, Sep 5, 2014):
Boeing is building a laser cannon for the U.S. Army, and the new weapon has now proved it will be as capable at sea as on land. The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD)—basically a high-energy laser mounted on top of a big truck—was successfully used to blast some UAV drones and 60mm mortars out of the Florida sky earlier this year, Boeing announced Thursday.
This test was done in a windy and foggy environment, an essential step to proving the technology is useful for naval deployment. The HEL MD used a 10-kilowatt laser—a much less powerful version of what it will eventually fire—to “successfully engage” more than 150 targets at Eglin Air Force Base, a Department of Defense weapons testing facility on the Florida Panhandle. In other words, it disabled or destroyed them.
In simple terms, the laser makes an incredibly powerful, highly focused beam of light and aims it at a moving target. Light equals heat, and, after enough heat has been transferred, the target is compromised and crashes or blows up. The Army and Boeing (which landed a $36 million contract for the project) have been working on this for the better part of a decade, par for the course for a next-generation weapons platform.
The lithium ion batteries that power the HEL MD’s laser are charged by a 60 kW diesel generator, so if the Army can keep the fuel tank full, they can shoot down incoming threats indefinitely. The system uses a telescope and infrared-based, wide field of view camera to locate and designate targets. Boeing has designed the system to be operated by a driver and an operator with a laptop and an Xbox controller. Putting it on a truck makes the system mobile, and thus much more useful in battle situations.
The next step for the laser cannon will be to up the power to 50 or 60 kilowatts, a “tactically significant power level” for use against incoming rockets, artillery and mortar strikes, and UAV drones. The laser cannon isn’t expected to be ready for use in the field for several more years, at least.