Army readying a laser that can shoot down drones

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The Army completed testing of a laser that can hardness directed energy to shoot down adversarial small drones, a service official told reporters Wednesday.

The tests at Fort Sill in Oklahoma this summer demonstrated the Army’s combat use of a laser it has been developing for the past two years. The laser — the Directed Energy-Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (DE M-SHORAD) — is the first the Army has developed for countering new threats like unmanned aerial systems.

By fiscal 2022, the Army plans to have four of the lasers in use.

“This is the first combat application of lasers for a maneuver element in the Army,” Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director for hypersonics, directed energy, space and rapid acquisition, said in a statement. “The technology we have today is ready. This is a gateway to the future.”

The weapon harnesses energy to focus a beam of photons at an oncoming object. It uses both onboard sensors and data from an array of other sensors to detect threats like drones, which are of increasing concern for Army combat operations.

One of the main advantages of using lasers in counter-UAS weapons is there is no need to reload a laser that uses energy as its ammunition.

“All the bullets are built into the system,” Craig Robin, deputy director of DE M-SHORAD, told reporters.

To develop the system, the Army has used other transaction agreements and rounds of prototypes tests — a model the service has used for other emerging tech programs, like its Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) headsets.

The system is similar to an effort the Air Force Research Lab is working on. Both use directed energy as a defense against novel threats, but the Air Force is researching the use of microwaves to stop swarms of drones. 

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Army, directed-energy weapons, other transaction agreements (OTAs)
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