The US Navy successfully takes down a drone with an all-electric laser for the first time

The high energy weapon system needs only electricity to run.
Ameya Paleja
Laser weapon system demonstration.U.S. Naval Forces Central Command

A cruise missile surrogate was one of the many targets that the U.S. Navy's Layered Laser Defense (LLD) system successfully brought down during trials in February this year, a press release said

Designed and built by Lockheed Martin, the LLD system is meant to be used across different domains and platforms. Deploying a high-resolution telescope to track in-bound threats, the system can target fast-attack boats as well as unmanned aerial systems or drones, which are the newest threat in warfare.

The U.S. Navy's push for a laser weapon system

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has pushed for laser-based weapon systems since the 1980s. Back then, lasers were powered by chemical technologies and the logistical challenges involved in their operation made it difficult to field them. 

The ONR continued to push for laser-based systems, thereafter, advances in laser technologies over a period of time have made it possible to trial an all-electric laser-based weapon system. Independent of propellants or ordnance that has conventionally been used in naval weapon systems, the electric laser is not only safer for ships and their crew but can also remain functional as long as the ship has power.

In 2014, the ONR tested a laser weapon system on USS Ponce with another test completed onboard USS Portland in December last year. The LLD is compact, powerful, and more efficient than the previously tested systems and possesses specialized optics to observe its target and focus the laser beam to maximum effect. It also uses artificial intelligence to improve tracking and targeting. 

During the recent tests carried out at the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the LLD shot down a wide array of targets including unmanned fixed-winged aerial vehicles, and quadcopters as well as high-speed drones that served as subsonic cruise missile surrogates. The telescope on the system supports combat identification as well as helps in the assessment of engaged targets.

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Other militaries working on laser weapon systems

While the LLD is not scheduled to be fielded any time soon, the U.S. Army has plans to field directed energy weapons as part of its short-range defense systems (SHORAD) as early as this year.

Last year, we also reported that the French Navy was planning laser-based weapons to strengthen its defenses against aerial as well as floating objects. Last week, Israel successfully tested the Iron Beam, the successor to its Iron Dome air defense system that uses a laser as ammunition. 

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