German defense contractor Rheinmetall has shown off a new two-part laser system with a combined output of 50 kW, capable of shooting down drones and intercepting mortar rounds in mid-flight. The high-energy laser (HEL) weapon consists of a 30 kW primary laser mounted on a rotating turret and a 20 kW secondary beam for targeting stationary objects. In tests conducted in late November, the beams combined to slice through a 15mm steel girder at a distance of roughly 1,000 yards, while the 30 kW laser on its own was able to intercept a drone moving at more than 110 mph.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the system is its ability to lock on to small moving targets. In order to simulate a mortar round, testers used a steel ball of just over three inches in diameter. The HEL was able to detect the incoming projectile, before using two levels of tracking — a rough positioning provided by the mechanical turret and a more accurate fine-tuning by the laser itself — to intercept the target.
This isn't the first time that the company has demonstrated a turret-mounted laser weapon. Last year, a 10 kW version performed similar feats, and Rheinmetall says that it plans to produce a device capable of 100 kW output in the immediate future. Still, it faces competition from rivals in the space — as far back as 2010, US firm Raytheon demonstrated a 50 kW weapon with comparable capabilities, including the ability to shoot down a drone from a moving warship.