Defence News reports that the US Air Force is testing whether lasers mounted on the backs of dune buggies could be the counter-drone weapon the military needs.
According to the news report:
“The High Energy Laser Weapon System, or HELWS, uses directed energy to defeat incoming unmanned aerial systems — a threat that military leaders are increasingly concerned about….The Air Force Research Laboratory awarded Raytheon Technologies a $23.8 million contract in 2019 for two HELWS prototypes, granting $13.1 million later that year for a third prototype.
“HELWS includes a laser module that generates the beam, a magazine that provides enough power for dozens of shots, and thermal systems to keep the whole system at the right temperature. But the most expensive component — and the one with the longest lead time — is the hybrid electro-optical infrared sensor/beam director.
“[We] inserted an optical path that allowed us to fire the laser out the primary aperture while we are sensing,” explained Evan Hunt, Raytheon’s lead for high-energy laser business development. “So the thing you are looking at is exactly the thing that your laser beam hits, which is one of the great features of the system.”
The news service reports that for the weapon to work, the system must keep the laser on the target throughout the engagement while directing enough energy over the distance to destroy or disable it.
“It takes us roughly 5 seconds to shoot down a drone within 3 kilometers or so,” said Hunt. The whole system is controlled via a game-style controller and a single laptop.
Raytheon has reportedly delivered three different versions of the system to the Air Force, with the Directed Energy Combined Test Force announcing recently that HELWS2 was tested overseas beginning in September 2020. The first HELWS system was deployed in early 2020.
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