Boeing has been researching ways to disable drones with lasers for a while now, and this week, the defense contractor released new footage (below) of its Compact Laser Weapons System: a portable, tripod-mounted device that can burn a hole in a UAV or a quadcopter in seconds. The system is essentially a less-powerful version of Boeing's High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), a truck-mounted laser that can destroy mortars in mid-flight. Although HEL MD might one day be deployed on the battlefield, its compact cousin is intended to keep drones away from sensitive areas, according to a report from Wired.
deployed within minutes and packs into four suitcases
The portable system fits into four large, suitcase-sized boxes, can be deployed in a matter of minutes, and — like the HEL MD — is operated with the help of laptop and an Xbox controller. (Sorry, Sony fans.) Like any laser weapon system, it has an unlimited magazine as long as there's energy to power it — either via generator or battery pack — and the cost-per-shot is incredibly low. Boeing hopes to see these systems deployed in active service within the next couple of years, where they would supplement traditional missile defense systems. "There will be times where it makes sense to use a missile and there will be times where it makes sense to use a laser," Boeing's lasers and optical systems director David DeYoung told Wired.
However, this sort of laser weapon has been the subject of a lot of hype over the years, and have struggled to meet high expectations. As well as the difficulty of providing them with enough power (Wired mentions Boeing's "battery solutions" for the Compact Laser Weapons System only have enough juice for "a few shots"), lasers are easily disrupted by atmospheric conditions such as dust and fog. Boeing's airborne 747-mounted laser system, for example, was billed as America's "first light saber" before being decommissioned in 2012 and sent to a US Air Force boneyard. The Compact Laser Weapons System may have its sights set slightly lower than punching missiles out of the sky, but when it comes to combating smaller drones, the Army might be better off training eagles instead.