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What just happened? In what could be viewed as a sign of the often frighteningly uncertain times we live in, the US navy has shot down a drone using an all-electric laser for the first time. The military branch's Layered Laser Defense (LLD) took down the machine, which was representing a subsonic cruise missile, during tests in February this year.
The LLD weapon, designed and built by Lockheed Martin, is able to take out unmanned aerial systems, fast attack boats, and, using its high-resolution telescope, in-bound air threats.
February's tests were carried out by the Office of Naval Research at the US Army's High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The LLD was tested against a wide range of targets, including unmanned fixed-winged aerial vehicles and quadcopters as well as the high-speed drones that acted as subsonic cruise missile replacements.
The target drone used during LLD tests, courtesy of Lockheed Martin
The Navy says that laser weapons have several advantages. In addition to identifying and assessing the damage they inflict on targets, lasers can disable sensors or dazzle forces without blinding them. And being all-electric, they require no explosives or propellants, making them safer. Moreover, as long as power is available from the ship carrying them, all-electric lasers offer theoretically unlimited ammo at a cost of around $1 per shot, writes New Atlas.
"The Navy performed similar tests during the 1980s but with chemical-based laser technologies that presented significant logistics barriers for fielding in an operational environment," said Dr. Frank Peterkin, ONR's directed energy portfolio manager. "And, ultimately, those types of lasers did not transition to the fleet or any other service."
While there are currently no plans to put the LLD into action, the US Army intends to field directed energy weapons as part of its short-range defense systems (SHORAD) as early as this year, reports Interesting Engineering.