From their initial focus of surveilling difficult-to-reach territories, the role of drones has quickly evolved into carrying weapons and combating enemies while working in massive, autonomous swarms. As a result, countries engaging in drone warfare have been quick to build up their own drone defenses, often by blocking them. But French defense company, CILAS has different plans.
It uses a high-powered laser to shoot them down.
Called HELMA-P (High Energy Laser for Multiple Applications - Power), the turret system looks like a one-eyed WALL-E, albeit nowhere as generous and kind-hearted. It has a set of optical sensors that aid in tracking drones in flight and is armed with a powerful two-kilowatt laser to bring them down.
The system is operated by a single user who receives inputs from the optical sensors and tracks the movement of the drones in range. Using a fighter airplane-like controller, the laser weapon can be aimed and fired.
The system was developed over a period of two years as part of a joint collaboration with the Ariane Group and testing began in 2020 at the missile test center of the Armament General Directorate (DGA) in Southwest France. CILAS group claims that during its trials, it shot down 37 drones with pinpoint accuracy. It has a range of 0.62 mi (1 km), which the company says is three-four times the range of existing anti-drone technologies.
The last of its trials were held on the 7th of July and attended by Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces. The company successfully demonstrated the weapon system while it rained under a significant cloud cover. Parly called the project an "exceptional experiment" and the demonstration "very promising".
"In terms of power, range and mobility; the smaller the systems will be, the easier they will be to deploy," Parly said. "In fact, I have asked for these laser weapons to be tested on French Navy ships in the first half of 2022”, he added, paving way for trials on ships.
Apart from drones, the company wants to test them on floating objects in the sea, fast in-shore attack crafts (FIAC), while also using them for optical jamming and destroying antennas, Naval News reported.
Details of which ships will get the defense system for trials are currently withheld.