Great Britain tests high-power lasers to shoot down drones

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Great Britain tests high-power lasers to shoot down drones

Illustration by HELWS on a wolfhound

Raytheon concept

LONDON – The UK is the latest military to test a new directional energy weapon developed by Raytheon Technologies to destroy rogue drones.

Raytheon will mount its HELWS high energy laser weapon system on one of the British Army’s tactical support vehicles – the Wolfhound – for a six-month experiment to demonstrate its ability to take down unmanned systems. The armed forces need more strength and accuracy to meet the growing threat posed by cheap, highly customized unmanned aerial vehicles, said Jason Nelsen, senior regional director of Europe and the Americas at Raytheon Intelligence and Space.

Nelsen compared the situation to the scourge of improvised explosive devices that the US Army and coalition forces faced during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It was “an analogous problem,” he said on the sidelines of the Defense and Security Equipment International conference in London in September. Both IEDs and drones are inexpensive to obtain but expensive to defeat.

The laser uses a multispectral aiming system that has been in use for millions of hours on platforms like the C-130 Hercules airplane and the MH-60 helicopter, Nelsen said. The weapon “secret” to enabling accuracy is to embed a laser in an electro-optic and infrared sensor, or EO-IR.

“If you are trying to take out a UAS, you have to be very specific,” he said. “It would be like a laser pointer – if you’re trying to focus on a presentation and it’s everywhere, all that force is moving … [and] it is not effective. “

The operator can be confident that the laser’s radar will detect a target and then use the visual representation of the EO-IR sensor to confirm that it is accurate. A human will make the final decision before hitting the target, he added.

The operator can also create a “no-fly zone” for the laser to prevent accidental firing of weapons in predetermined directions, he noted.

The high-energy laser system was connected to other platforms for testing purposes in the USA. For example, the Air Force Research Laboratory spent more than $ 13 million on Raytheon’s demonstrators in 2019.

Over the next four years, the UK plans to invest nearly $ 9 million in research and development for these types of capabilities in its armed forces.

“Directed energy weapons are a key element of our future equipment programs and we intend to become a world leader in the research, manufacture and implementation of this next-generation technology,” Secretary of Defense Procurement Jeremy Quin said in a statement.

Subjects: Emerging Technologies


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