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The US Military's New Laser Weapon Burns Through Drones in Mid-Air

And shoot artillery out of the sky.

The US Military's New Laser Weapon Burns Through Drones in Mid-Air
An image of the device mounted on an army vehicle. US Army

The modern battlefield is evolving at light speed.

This is why the U.S. Army is implementing a laser weapon system in real-world air defense vehicles, according to an initial report and analysis from Popular Mechanics. Called the DE M-SHORAD, the new weapon was developed to shoot down artillery shells and enemy drones.

And it could enter service in 2022.

The US Army is catching up to modern threats with lasers

Short for the Directed Energy Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense system, the DE M-SHORAD can take down more than drones. It can also target and destroy incoming artillery shells, which have remained a serious challenge on modern battlefields for hundreds of years. And the U.S. Army is prepared to field the initial four lasers mounted on armored vehicles sometime in 2022. This summer, the Army executed tests of DE M-SHORAD at Fort Bliss, Texas, which is the headquarters of the service's defense artillery in the state. The new laser system employs a 50-kilowatt beam of focused laser light at a drone, which heats the surface of the craft. This can create aerodynamic failure, disables the engine, blind the drone's sensors, or possibly detonate the aircraft's explosive payload and fuel supply.

This is a crucial feature, since drone attacks are a rapidly growing threat presently confronting the Army. Drones are extremely nimble and speedy, and are capable of moving a devastating payload in a flash. And, most worryingly, their underlying technology is evolving at light speed. While the U.S. Army remains the most dominant ground force on Earth, but it has scrambled to catch up to the threat of drones. And, with punctual timing, the service has developed the DE M-SHORAD for deployment next year, mounted upon Stryker infantry armored vehicles.

The next generation of warfare is nearly here

And the forthcoming DE M-SHORAD can also shoot enemy artillery out of the sky, which is an incredible upgrade after a century of ground forces being forced to dig in, run to a different position, or risk attacking the artillery emplacement directly. But now, the Army says its DE M-SHORAD can intercept munitions mid-flight, saving the friendly troops below from potential decimation. As of writing, the service has four DE M-SHORAD vehicles ready to go, but if the system proves adequate, they'll likely buy more, on the scale of dozens. There's nothing quite like this available, and the army needs the means to defend against enemy artillery and drones, with ten combat divisions, in addition to multiple brigades and regimens to shield from harm. And the summer testing "demonstrated the design characteristics and performance criteria established for the program," which means we're closer than ever to seeing these placed in real-world battles.

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"This is the first combat application of lasers for a maneuver element in the Army," said LTG L. Neil Thurgood, who's the Director for Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space, and Rapid Acquisition for the service, in a blog post. "The technology we have today is ready. This is the gateway to the future." With multiple nations pushing the envelope in hypersonic weapons, in addition to drones and next-gen underwater nuclear torpedoes, that future is going to dwarf many technologies of the 20th century.

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