In an evolutionary leap in battlefield technology, Defense giant Lockheed Martin has successfully shot down multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) using a giant laser beam, the company has announced.
During test operations with the US Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command in August, the 30-kilowatt ATHENA laser system brought down five Outlaw unmanned aerial vehicles at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
“The tests at White Sands against aerial targets validated our lethality models and replicated the results we’ve seen against static targets at our own test range,” Lockheed Martin chief technology officer Keoki Jackson said in a statement. “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.”
According to the company, the transportable, groundbased system takes down UAVs by focusing its Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative (ALADIN) laser at the aircraft’s stern control surfaces until they are burned off and cause structural failure and loss of control to the aircraft.
Lockheed Martin is pushing its laser-weapon systems for use on the battlefield due to their speed, flexibility, precision and low cost per engagement.
“Our beam-control technology enables precision equivalent to shooting a beach ball off the top of the Empire State Building from the San Francisco Bay Bridge,” saod Paul Shattuck, director of the company’s directed-energy systems.
Lasers have become increasingly popular among militaries around the world. While expensive to develop, once operational they cost far less than other systems, such as Patriot missiles, which cost $4.5 million each.
Last Tuesday, Israel used the Patriot missile system to intercept an Iranian-built Hezbollah-launched drone that breached the “Bravo line,” which marks the Syrian demilitarized zone, firing one Patriot anti-ballistic missile stationed near the northern city of Safed.
In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, Aerial Defense Division commander Brig.-Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, said that UAVs were a big challenge due to their size, speed and low-flying altitude. Nevertheless, Israel’s aerial defense systems “are flexible enough” to counter any threat, he said, including UAVs.
In mid-August, Israel carried out a test of its Patriot system that focused on the threats posed by UAVs, firing multiple interceptor missiles toward aerial targets over central Israel.
Lockheed Martin and the US Army are currently conducting reviews of the test data to help further refine the system, improve model predictions and inform development of future laser systems.