Drones are already delivering parcels, surveilling the movements of both wildlife and people, and taking part in search-and-rescue missions. Like it or not, they’re going to form a major part of our daily lives within the next decade.
The US Navy has recognized that drones could also be used as a weapon: spying on military units, or attacking them directly or indirectly. To wit, it’s developed the world’s first fully functional active laser weapon specifically designed to target them.
As reported by CNN, the Laser Weapons System (LaWS) can be found aboard the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship. Said to be more precise than any bullet, it hits targets at the speed of light and superheats the point of impact instantaneously. Wind speed and range, for the most part, don’t matter.
The system cost around $40 million to develop, but each shot costs around a single dollar. It only requires three crewmembers to operate and one single small electrical generator. It’s a remarkably cost-effective weapons system, one that can either take out targets completely or merely disable them for capture.
Although it can shoot at any target, moving or stationary, there’s no doubt that its speed and precision is largely driven by the need to take out fast-moving targets – including drones. Indeed, for the test firing witnessed by CNN, a drone aircraft was shot out of the sky in mere moments. As is made clear by the footage, the weapon is silent and the laser that emerges is invisible.
At this stage, only small boats and drones can be taken out by LaWS, but it probably won’t surprise you to learn that a second-generation upgrade will soon be available. This laser will be far more powerful and will be designed to take out objects as large as ballistic missiles mid-flight.
The LaWS in action. CNN via YouTube
Presently, only other missiles can effectively shoot these warheads out of the sky. A laser-based replacement will be cheaper, speedier and, arguably, more accurate.
At the same time, the US Department of Defense’s R&D wing, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), are also taking time to bolster the drones themselves. Just a couple of years back, it was announced that they are working on “vampire drones”, which are designed to reach a target and then sublimate away into nothingness in sunlight.
Between lasers and drones, the US military definitely has you covered. It’ll be interesting to see how “competing” nations like Russia and China keep up over the next few years.