It has been dubbed a ‘death ray on wheels’.
Boeing’s 10 kilowatt laser can down a drone using an array of hi-tech sensors.
And makers Boeing have even proved it can battle the weather – by tracking and firing through fog, wind and rain in its latest test.
The truck-mounted weapon, known as the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), gives a hint at what a weapon of the future could look like.
Using an invisible laser beam to exact targets, the rounds are capable of taking down drones from the sky and even missiles.
The device was equipped with a 10-kilowatt solid state laser and a radar system mounted atop a heavy truck at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
‘Under windy, rainy and foggy weather conditions in Florida, these engagements were the most challenging to date with a 10-kilowatt laser on HEL MD,’ said Dave DeYoung, Boeing Directed Energy Systems director.
‘As proven at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in 2013 and at Eglin Air Force Base this spring, HEL MD is reliable and capable of consistently acquiring, tracking and engaging a variety of targets in different environments, demonstrating the potential military utility of directed energy systems.’
In these recent demonstrations, HEL MD used a 10-kilowatt, high energy laser installed on an Oshkosh tactical military vehicle.
The demonstrator is the first mobile, high-energy laser, counter rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) platform to be built and demonstrated by the U.S. Army.
‘With capabilities like HEL MD, Boeing is demonstrating that directed energy technologies can augment existing kinetic strike weapons and offer a significant reduction in cost per engagement,’ said DeYoung.
‘With only the cost of diesel fuel, the laser system can fire repeatedly without expending valuable munitions or additional manpower.’
Throughout the two series of demonstrations, Boeing achieved all performance objectives on schedule, successfully engaging more than 150 aerial targets including 60 mm mortars and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The next step will be to install a 50 or 60-kilowatt laser on HEL MD to demonstrate counter RAM and UAV capability at this tactically significant power level.
During previous tests a ‘quarter-sized’ invisible laser beam successfully targeted and destroyed more than 90 incoming mortar rounds and six to seven unmanned drones.
Mortars are common battlefield weapons that are hard to protect against because they can be fired from short distances.
The mortars used in the test were standard 60 millimeter rounds – the length of a football — fired from a distance of less than two kilometers in salvos of two to three mortar rounds each.
The laser’s success rate against incoming mortar shells indicates that battlefield protection from the small explosive rounds could be possible in a few years.
Army video of the laser tests shows the laser targeting the mortar so that it burns up in mid-air and does not explode when it completes its trajectory.
‘We turn it into a rock, basically,’ said Bauer.
Large test drones flying five kilometers from the laser system came to crash into the New Mexico desert by aiming the laser at the tail of the unmanned aircraft.
An infrared camera on the video captured how a small dot of light on the tail slowly grew in intensity, forcing the craft to lose navigational control.
The laser can also be used for less offensive purposes by dialing back its intensity to blind sensors aboard the drones.
Plans call for shrinking the size of the laser system while also boosting its strength to 50 kilowatts, and ultimately 100 kilowatts.
Shrinking its size will make it easier to mount on more mobile vehicles that can be used on the battlefield.
Increasing the wattage will allow the beam to hit faster-moving targets at greater distances and in a shorter amount of time.
For example, a 100 kilowatt laser beam will be able to bring down a target in a tenth of the time it currently takes for a 10 kilowatt laser.
The laser is able to fire and target only one incoming target at a time, so the idea is that when the lasers are fully operational they will be grouped in teams of three or five to protect against multiple incoming rounds.
These laser units could be deployed in the future to help protect frontline units or bases .
Ultimately the laser could be used against faster moving aircraft and cruise missiles.