U.S. anti-drone weapon unveiled

July 22, 2010 at 2:05 PM   |   0 comments

LONDON, July 22 (UPI) -- U.S. defense giant Raytheon Missile Systems has unveiled a laser weapon capable of shooting unmanned aerial vehicles from a range of just less than 2 miles.

Mounted on a U.S. warship's missile defense system, the laser shot down four drones in secret tests off California in May, Raytheon touted in a statement this week.

The test entailed tracking the drones with sensors used as part of a Raytheon-built ship defense system and destroying the aircraft using a high-powered, fiber-optic laser.

The laser's 50-kilowatt beam can shoot down a drone traveling as fast as 311 miles per hour.

Experts explain that Raytheon developed the system after buying six off-the-shelf commercial lasers from the car industry before combining them to produce a single, powerful beam guided by Phalanx radars.

Unlike other military tests that have been conducted on aircraft, it uses a solid-state laser rather than a chemical-generated beam.

"The Raytheon-U.S. Navy team demonstrated the systems' capability to detect, track, engage and defeat dynamic targets at tactically significant ranges in a maritime environment," Taylor W. Lawrence, president of Raytheon Missile Systems, said in a statement.

The test marked the first successful drone shoot-down over water.

With unmanned vehicles increasing being used to spy or attack fleets experts say the need for developing defenses against them has become imperative.

"One of the Navy's problems is that the bad guys have unmanned aircraft now -- they can give away ships' positions," Raytheon Vice President Mike Booen was quoted saying by USA Today. "So we wanted to do a more real-world test over water."

News of Raytheon's successful testing coincided with the start of the Farnborough Air Show taking place in the England this week.

Raytheon has been developing laser technology for years and the idea of laser weapons has been simmering for decades. Still, few ideas have led to fruition and effective testing. Scientists, in fact, have been struggling to devise a device that could produce enough power but be compact enough for deployment.

It wasn't immediately made clear by Raytheon how long the company would take to completely develop the weapon. By some accounts, though, experts expect full military deployment by 2016.

Mounted under the deck, the laser system shoots out an invisible beam seen only when it strikes an intruder. The system is also expected to target small boats and anti-ship missiles.

"This will proceed to production because it is solving a real problem," Booen was quoted saying by the British media.

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