WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- Laser weapons are coming of age and it won’t be long before they’re deployed on the battlefield, and that’s bad news for drones and drone fans
Remember when you were growing up and every sci fi film you watched, from James Bond to Star Wars, showed leaser weapons blasting things out of the sky? Well, if Lockheed Martin’s latest demonstration is anything to go by then soon, as soon as 2020, you could be living in that sci fi world.
Last week Lockheed Martin teamed up with the US Army Space and Missile Defence Command (USASMDC) to show off its prototype laser weapon, dubbed ATHENA (Advanced Test High Energy Asset) to blow five Outlaw drones out of the sky.
“The tests at [White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico] against aerial targets validated our lethality models and replicated the results we’ve seen against static targets at our own test range,” said Keoki Jackson, Lockheed Martin’s CTO, “as we mature the technology behind laser weapon systems, we’re making the entire system more effective and moving closer to a laser weapon that will provide greater protection to our war fighters by taking on more sophisticated threats from a longer range.”
The ATHENA weapon is currently powered by a compact Rolls-Royce turbo generator, and what makes it, apparently, extra special, is the fact that it boasts a “smart modular design” that allows its operators to vary the amount of power it wields by adding or taking away laser modules. For example, the base model is capable of shooting a 60 kW beam, which could easily be upped to 120 kW if required.
As to why it’s being used in demonstrations to shoot Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) though the explanation is easy, once deployed it’ll likely be used to protect forward operating bases and soldiers at the front from swarms of drones, like the ones the US trialled recently, and one of the big advantages of lasers like ATHENA is that they offer greater speed, flexibility, precision, and lower cost per engagement when compared to alternative weapons. And if the lasers fail, then soldiers could always just use another new technology called “MESMER” to take them over.
However, while all of this drone killing might sound great, if you’re a soldier, or horrible, if you’re a drone fan, drone’s are already starting to fight back against these next generation laser systems before they’re even in the field thanks to nanotechnology and new materials that absorb and disperse the laser’s energy, and, if you’re a drone fan and a sci fi fan then there’s even more wonder in store – deflector shields. Yes, recently BAE announced they’d finally figured out how to make them – awesome!
Following the test, Lockheed Martin and the US Army will now carry out a post mission review and, using the data they collected, they plan on building a bigger better laser. Lasers 5 – Drones 0.