US Navy Conducts Drone Drop Test with High-Energy Laser

electric laser gun
electric laser gun

The US Navy has shot down the first unmanned aerial vehicle, which represents a subsonic cruise missile using an all-electric high-energy laser. At the US Army's High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, a Lockheed Martin Layered Laser Defense (LLD) weapon has shot down a UAV!

The February 2022 test, sponsored by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) and conducted in partnership with the Department of Defense (Research and Engineering) and Lockheed Martin, was not solely aimed at demonstrating the tracking capability of laser weapons. This new weapon, which can eliminate various threats such as robotic fixed-wing aircraft, quadcopters and subsonic cruise missiles, as well as large targets such as the drone in question, is a revolutionary in terms of military defense.

According to the Navy, laser weapons have a number of advantages. Using a high-resolution telescope, the system can track and help identify incoming targets and determine how much damage the laser has inflicted on a target. In addition, laser weapons are scaleable back to disable sensors or dazzle enemy forces without permanently blinding them.

Unlike previous laser weapons powered by chemicals, the LLD is solid state and consists of coils of glass optic fiber doped with various elements. These coils can be put together and the lasers they produce can be combined into a single, powerful beam and reflected through optics that aim, focus and compensate for atmospheric distortion.

LLC Laser
LLC Laser

Additionally, laser guns require no explosives or propellant, making them inherently safer to hold on ships and have a theoretically unlimited supply of ammunition as long as power is available, allowing for a cost of about one dollar per shot.

laser systems discussed earlier

The Navy has previously deployed laser weapons that disable unmanned aerial vehicles from hitting them on the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf in 2014 and the USS Portland in 2021. Both were demonstrators and the Navy has no plans to use LLD as a standard weapon system. But the latest test shows the technology's growing capabilities, including the use of artificial intelligence to track and target threats.

ONR's directed energy portfolio manager, Dr. “The Navy did similar tests in the 1980s, but with chemical-based laser technologies that presented significant logistical barriers to getting into the field in an operational environment,” said Frank Peterkin. “And ultimately, such lasers did not make it to the fleet or any other service.”

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