Unmanned aerial vehicles beware: We've got laser weapons. This week defense contractor Raytheon debuted video of a test conducted with the U.S. Navy in California this May, in which the company's laser weapon shot down four UAVs. The shaky black-and-white footage shows lasers locked on an aircraft until it loses control and plunges into the sea. The Navy's laser depends upon a guidance system it already uses on its ships—Raytheon's Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, which normally uses radar to guide a 20mm Gatling gun.
Raytheon developed the system after buying six off-the-shelf commercial lasers from the car industry and joining them to make a single, powerful beam guided by the Phalanx’s radars. Unlike other tests which have been conducted on aircraft it uses a solid state laser rather than a chemical generated beam [The Telegraph].
Raytheon won't give away many of the weapons system's specs, such as its range. But Raytheon's Mike Booen says the lasers produce enough power to overcome one of the major challenges of laser weapon technology: using it over water.
Damp maritime air can absorb the laser energy before it reaches the target and -- as developers discovered in the 1960s when trying to target Russian Mig aircraft -- a reflective surface can negate much of the laser's effectiveness. Mr Booen acknowledges this, but said that these problems could be overcome. "Every material reflects, but you can overcome this with power; once you get over a certain threshold -- measured in multiple kilowatts -- then the laser does what it is designed to do," he said [BBC News].
More military laser projects: Death from above. For years the military has been developing a laser-mounted Boeing 747
. However, we noted earlier this year that the government had pulled back on the funding for this program. Laser humvee. Speaking of Boeing, last year the company tested a 1-kilowatt solid-state laser mounted on the back of a military humvee
. It succeeded in burning a hole through mortar rounds and blowing them up. We have the power. Last spring, Northrop Grumman's laser weapons engineers created a blaster that for the first time exceeded 100 kilowatts
, which many viewed as the power needed for a weapons-grade laser. Related Content: DISCOVER: The Most Important Future Military Technologies