Introducing the new laser cannon that kills drones

Engineers developed a new laser weapon which can melt (up to now only small) targets in a few seconds.

The new Compact Laser Weapon System (credit: Jordan Golson/Wired)

The new Compact Laser Weapon System (credit: Jordan Golson/Wired)

The new weapon’s name is Compact Laser Weapon System. It is a more versatile version of the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), which is a laser system developed by Boeing to be mounted on U.S Army units “to counter rockets, artillery, mortars and unmanned aerial vehicles with speed of light and pinpoint precision”.

The new weapon – like its bigger cousin HEL MD – uses a focused beam of energy that heats up and damages the target. “Think of it like a welding torch being put on a target, but from many hundreds of meters away,” Boeing engineer Isaac Neal says. It features a battery, a chiller which prevents overheating, a 2-kilowatt laser and a beam director for aiming.

As the name suggests, the Compact Laser Weapon System is extremely compact – about the size of a suitcase – and in its first official test in Point Mugu California it performed extremely well. It destroyed a test target, a flying drone, in just 15 seconds. In another demo it burnt holes in a stationary unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) shell to show how quickly it can compromise an aircraft – 2 seconds and the target was aflame. Besides the quick action, one of the advantages of the new weapon is its subtlety. The laser is in the infrared (invisible to the human eye) and “If you were on the receiving end of the laser, you would have no idea where it was coming from or what was even happening,” Neal added.

The new Compact Laser Weapon System can be operated by just one person (with a standard Xbox 360 controller!) and used almost anywhere due to its small size and light weight – unlike the bigger HEL MD, which is more powerful (10 kW) but needs to be mounted on a vehicle. Boeing’s goal is to further develop the laser system and eventually use it to counteract incoming explosives such as missiles and small artillery, something that HEL MD can already do.

The U.S. Army is obviously extremely interested in the new ‘gadget’, especially because of its cost-effectiveness. The only cost associated to firing the weapon is the electricity required to power the laser. While Boeing has not stated the precise numbers, the cost effectiveness of the new weapon can be easily estimated.  D.C. Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research, reported that firing the analogous Navy’s 30-kilowatt Laser Weapon System (LaWS) costs less than a dollar per shot.

Here is a link to the video.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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