The drones have emerged as a major new threat to civilian infrastructure and military. The militant organizations have started employing drones to further their terrorism. Jihadi groups fighting the Syrian government – most notably ISIS and Jabhet al-Nusra – are extensively using advanced drones to pinpoint the Syrian Army’s locations, find out about troops deployment, and film suicide attacks and propaganda footages. The Sep 2019 attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities knocked out half of its oil production. Just this month, 18 suicide drones struck Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing facility, the largest of its kind in the world, causing significant damage. Saudi Arabian air defenses were completely ineffectual in responding the attack, This had driven military and security agencies to actively scout for adequate defence systems.
One of the attractive Anti-drone weapons have been directed energy weapons (DEWs) both of electronic type and laser weapons. DEW have also been spotted at U.S. military bases on the front lines against the Islamic State, and the Air Force has disclosed it downed a IS drone through “electronic measures”.
The US Army is planning to deploy laser weapons able to protect Forward Operating Bases (FOB) by rapidly incinerating and destroying approaching enemy drones, artillery rounds, mortars and cruise missiles. The US Army announced earlier that they are going to be going all in on laser and direct energy weapons and that they will be fitting them onto their armoured Stryker personel carriers first. Forward-deployed soldiers in places like Afghanistan are familiar with facing incoming enemy mortar rounds, rockets and gunfire attacks; potential future adversaries could launch drones, cruise missiles, artillery or other types of weapons at FOBs. Army bosses hope the radical weapon will give protection against threats such as swarms of drones or large numbers of rockets and mortars, and says It could one day be installed on military planes, helicopters and ships.
A battlefield laser weapon designed to destroy or disable enemy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), already in use by the U.S. Army. The Compact Laser Weapon System, or CLWS, is already part of the Army’s Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser program. The vehicle-mounted weapon is deployed on Stryker vehicle in Europe and has been part of field experiments.
In November of 2013, the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command used the HEL MD, a vehicle-mounted high energy laser, to successfully engage more than 90 mortar rounds and several unmanned aerial vehicles in flight at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. “This was the first full-up demonstration of the HEL MD in the configuration that included the laser and beam director mounted in the vehicle. A surrogate radar (Enhanced Multi Mode Radar) supported the engagement by queuing the laser,” an Army statement said.
The U.S. Air Force said in Sep 2019 that it will deploy a prototype of Raytheon’s Phaser high-power microwave counter-drone system for an operational evaluation. The service has been experimenting with a number of anti-drone directed energy weapons, which also include lasers, in recent years as the threat of small unmanned aircraft has grown. A Raytheon representative has said that a recent mass drone attack that caused significant damage to oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia has highlighted these concerns “to the nth degree.
Britain is planning to invest up to $162 million developing three directed-energy weapon demonstrators, including one aimed at killing drones, the Ministry of Defence has announced in 2019. The MoD said it had notified industry through Prior Information Notice, of its intention to procure two laser-based demonstrators and a radio-frequency weapon to “explore the potential of the technology and accelerate its introduction onto the battlefield.” The British hopes to have the new systems ready for trials in 2023.
The British already have a laser-based technology development effort underway. A £30 million ($37 million) technology demonstrator program known as Dragonfire was awarded to an industry consortium in 2017. The spokesman said that while Dragonfire is about “assessing the viability of the technology, the new work will be looking at issues like size, functionality and exactly how they integrate on existing platforms.”
China’s Poly Technologies has also showed off The Silent Hunter, one of the world’s most powerful laser weapons. It claims an output of at least 50-70 kilowatts, which would make it more powerful than the 33-kilowatt laser weapon systems (LaWS) currently deployed on the USS Ponce.The Silent Hunter is likely to be scaled up and equipped with radars to complement its optical/infrared tracking system, making it a capable close range defense system against enemy missiles, artillery, drones and aircraft.
Laser Directed energy weapons
Lasers excite atoms to release photons in powerful bursts of coherent (single-frequency, single-phase) light that can be focused and aimed with mirrors. With sufficient power, lasers can quickly pierce or overheat a wide range of targets, including missiles, aircraft and artillery rounds.
Laser Directed energy weapons (DEWs) offer several potentially “game changing” advantages: First, they transmit lethal force at the speed of light (about 300,000 kilometers per second). Second, their beams are not affected by the constraining effects of gravity or atmospheric drag. Third, they are extremely precise. Fourth, their effects can be tailored by varying the type and intensity of energy delivered against targets. Fifth, they have deep magazines and relatively low cost per shot. Finally, they are versatile in that they can be used both as sensing devices and kill mechanisms. However, directed-energy weapons also have drawbacks: laser beams are weakened by water vapor, dust and other obscurants, while radio-frequency emissions can be absorbed by any conductive material between the weapon and the target.
Lasers are an ideal choice to shoot down enemy artillery. Artillery rockets, shells, and bombs travel at high speeds, and defensive weapons must lead the target, spraying a cloud of shells where it anticipates the enemy weapon will be. Lasers move at the speed of light, eliminating the need to lead the target, and modern fire control systems can keep the laser focused on an object until it melts and crashes—or explodes in flight.
In the slightly longer term, both the Army and Marines want to upgrade their lasers to counter rockets, artillery, and mortar shells (C-RAM). Those are faster-moving, tougher targets that mini-drones, but like drones they are an increasing threat as precision-guidance technology spreads to potential enemies
US Army’s Laser DEWs
According to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, there are currently four directed energy efforts underway that also include different kilowatt (kW) class weapons:
- High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck (HELMTT): A 50-kW-class laser system integrated in a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT);
- High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator (HELTVD): An effort to integrate a 100-kW-class laser system on a Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV);
- Mobile Experimental High Energy Laser (MEHEL): A Stryker-based 5-kW class laser system developed to inform requirements for future laser weapon systems and to support tactics, techniques, procedures, and concept of operations development for high-energy laser weapons; and
- Multi-Mission High Energy Laser (MMHEL): An effort to develop a Stryker-based 50-kW-class laser demonstrator for a Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD) solution. This will be a dedicated air defense system that can maneuver with brigade combat teams (BCTs) while providing air defense and fire support. The SHORAD (Short Range Air Defense) program, which has already mounted anti-aircraft missiles and guns on 8×8 Stryker armored vehicles, will field four Strykers armed with 50-kilowatt drone-killing lasers in 2022.
- The IFPC (Indirect Fire Protection Capability) program is developing a larger laser, in the 100-300 kW range, with the power to shoot down artillery rockets and even subsonic cruise missiles. This weapons will be moved from site to site by truck. Prototypes will enter service in 2024. (IFPC is also developing a missile launcher variant).
The Army is also interested in high-powered microwaves for IFPC and base defense against drones, but it’s leaving that R&D to the Air Force, Robin said. The hope is the Army can just buy whatever system the Air Force develops, avoiding duplication and adding efficiencies of scale that will lower the acquisition cost for both services. “Both the Army and commercial industry have made substantial improvements in the efficiency of high-energy lasers — to the point where we can get militarily significant laser power onto a tactically relevant platform,” said Dr. Craig Robin, RCCTO Senior Research Scientist for Directed Energy Applications. “Now, we are in position to quickly prototype, compete for the best solution, and deliver to a combat unit.”
Army and General Dynamics Stryker mounted laser
The Army and General Dynamics Land Systems are developing a Stryker mounted laser weapon aimed at better arming the vehicle to incinerate enemy drones or threatening ground targets. The concept vehicles are being engineered and tested at the Army’s Ft. Sill artillery headquarters as a way to quickly develop the weapon for operational service. During a test in April, the laser weapons successful shot down 21 out of 23 enemy drone targets and the program is the first time that a laser weapon has ever been integrated into a combat vehicle.
The laser weapon system uses its own tracking radar to acquire targets in the event that other sensors on the vehicle are disabled in combat and has an electronic warfare jamming system intended to jam the signal of enemy drones. Boeing is responsible for making the fire control technology integrated into the laser weapon and the laser is also integrated with air-defense and field artillery networks.
The Boeing creation is a 5 kilowatt laser that can shoot down UAVs, attack snipers, breaching obstacles, setting-off unexploded ordnance, denying enemy landing zones, and to defend ports or airfields. The laser can mount atop the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) or other light battlefield vehicles, or it can go on a tripod and hooked to a generator to knock down UAV threats at a medium-sized forward-operating base or on the perimeter of a larger installation.
The weapon is capable of destroying Group 1 (drones up to 20lbs) and Group 2 (drones up to 55lbs) small and medium sized drones, Reese added. The whole system is compact and portable, fitted inside four suitcase-sized boxes; it can be assembled quickly in the field by two soldiers or personnel. Once assembled, the device is controlled by a standard Xbox 360 controller and a notebook computer. Custom targeting software lets the laser weapon system take control over the weapon and automatically track an enemy drone. The precision control afforded by the system allows operators to target certain parts of the drone, such as the tail or the wing. Currently, the laser weapon is designed to operate from a static position, but future models may be deployed and fired from a moving vehicle or a ship.
The Army’s aim is to develop an 18-kilowatt laser for the M1131 Stryker Fire Support Vehicle (FSV) by 2018. The FSV is the vehicle that calls for friendly artillery, so it sort of makes sense that it would be responsible for shooting down enemy artillery. It has a thermal imager/day camera that could help it spot drones, and four radios to monitor communications traffic for drone reports. In addition to the laser weapon the FSV will have a electronic jammer to jam drone control signals.
Laser counter-UAS system introduced by Raytheon
Raytheon Company delivered the first high-energy laser, counter-unmanned aerial system (UAS) to the U.S. Air Force earlier this month. The system will be deployed overseas as part of a year-long Air Force experiment to train operators and test the system’s effectiveness in real-world conditions.
The Raytheon team is combining a high energy laser with an advanced variant of Raytheon’s Multi-spectral Targeting System – a sophisticated package of electro-optical and infrared sensors mounted on a Polaris MRZR, a small, all-terrain vehicle. The laser weapon system offers 360 degree coverage for sea, land and air applications. The laser technology of Raytheon is able to identify, tracks, and defends against enemy missiles, mortars, unmanned vehicles, swarming boat attacks and other “close-in” defense situations. It provides precise, clean, low-cost engagements with near-infinite magazines.
According to the company, on a single charge from a standard 220-volt outlet, the HELWS can deliver intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability as well as precise laser shots. It can also be paired with a generator to provide a nearly infinite number of shots, according to company officials.
Spear Power Systems, has provided an advanced lithium-ion battery system to Raytheon for the a counter-unmanned aerial system (CUAS) delivered to the U.S. Air Force. The highly compact battery delivers a tremendous amount of power to the laser at the heart of the system, which is installed on a small all-terrain vehicle. The high power is intended to enable the system to neutralize the UAS in a matter of seconds.
US Army tests Raytheon laser weapon mounted on Polaris MRZR All-Terrain vehicle
A Polaris 4×4 All-Terrain vehicle fitted with Raytheon High Energy Lasers was tested during the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) at the U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence. Advancements have been made to the Hunter and Killer platforms which provide U.S. Soldiers with counter unmanned aerial system capabilities (C-UAS).
The Polaris vehicle with the laser weapon system is a new way for the U.S. Army to fight new threats as small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) able to perform suicide bomb missions against dismounted troops and combat vehicles. The Hunter finds enemy UAV and can call for fire and attack a target automatically.
The Raytheon laser system generates high power output in compact and rugged packages. The open architecture features modular, scalable designs that can be integrated on a variety of tactical platforms making them available for immediate use in combat
Oerlikon Skyshield High Energy Laser Weapon
This versatile air defence system consists of an Oerlikon Skyguard 3 fire control unit for target acquisition and weapon control and an Oerlikon high energy laser gun using a revolver gun turret equipped with laser weapon modules. Each module consists of one 10 kW fibre laser and a beam-forming unit. Commercial off the shelf fibre lasers were modified for air defence applications. The beam-forming unit provides diffraction-limited beam focusing, target imaging and fine tracking of the target.
By using beam superimposing technology, Rheinmetall has combined the power of single lasers into one multiplied laser beam. This technology not only allows superimposition of multiple lasers on a single gun platform, but also superimposition of multiple gun platforms. This enables an almost unlimited (e.g. 100kW and more) power output in line with the evolving air defence requirement. As a result the high-energy laser gun provides efficient protection against a large spectrum of modern air threats. Paired with radar, anti-air missiles, and 35mm guns, the whole system tracks incoming projectiles and shoots them down, assigning each weapon to the target for which it’s best-suited: missiles target planes, guns counter attack helicopters, and the lasers focus on small drones.
China laser directed energy weapons
Terrorists have started using small-sized, unmanned drones that are relatively cheap and easy to use. Neutralizing these drones through the snipers and helicopters, is difficult and can result in collateral damage. In 2014, Xinhua News Agency, China’s state press agency, reported that the China Academy of Engineering Physics (Sichuan Province) and other Chinese co developers have created and tested a laser-defense system designed to shoot down small unmanned drones such as “quadricopters” as well as small winged drones, flying at low altitude. Chinese Xinhua news agency, has reported 100 percent success rate of its Laser Weapon by shooting down more than 30 drones in a recent test.
The system destroy any small-scale drone flying within a 2Km radius , below of 500 m altitude and below 50 m/s(112mph) speed within five seconds of locating its target, the China Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP), one of the system’s co-developers, claimed in a statement. The mechanism can also take down various other small aircraft within a two-kilometer radius. The new laser system will be installed or transported in vehicles, and “is expected to play a key role in ensuring security during major events in urban areas,” the CAEP statement said.
Chinese Academy of Physics Engineering and Jiuyuan Hi Tech Equipment Corporation, have introduced its new lethal laser gun, the Low Altitude Guard II, in 2016. Compared with its predecessor, LAG II is more apparently militarized. Its range is doubled to 4 km and has a 300 percent increase in maximum power output to 30 kilowatts. That’s comparable to the Laser Weapons System (LAWS) installed on the USS Ponce, which has a range of 15-50 kilowatts for attacking UAVs, small boats, and helicopters. Poly Technology representatives told media that the LAG II can be either mounted on a medium sized truck, or a 6X6 armored personnel carrier, to provide frontline protection against small drones.
In 2017, Poly Technologies showed off The Silent Hunter, one of the world’s most powerful laser weapons. It claims an output of at least 50-70 kilowatts, which would make it more powerful than the 33-kilowatt laser weapon systems (LaWS) currently deployed on the USS Ponce. The laser is probably based on a smaller anti-drone laser, the Low Altitude Guard. That’s enough to knock out automobiles by burning out their engines from over a mile away, as the 30-kilowatt Lockheed Martin ATHENA laser demonstrated in 2015. The Silent Hunter uses fibre optic lasers (fibre optics doped with rare earth minerals), which provide weight savings over chemical lasers through increasing optical gain by kilometers of coiled fibre optics (as opposed to bulky chemical lasers). The Silent Hunter is likely to be scaled up and equipped with radars to complement its optical/infrared tracking system, making it a capable close range defense system against enemy missiles, artillery, drones and aircraft.
Applied Technology launches anti-drone laser weapon
Precision measurement systems developer ATA unveiled its LOCUST – “Low-Cost Counter-Unmanned Aerial System for Targeting” – at the AUSA annual meeting and expo, in October 2019, in Washington D.C.
The anti-drone system offers cost-effective defense against low-cost asymmetric unmanned aerial system (UAS) threats. The system detects and identifies such threats using electro-optical infrared (EOIR) sensor subsystems as well as active and passive radio frequency. It can then negate the threats using intelligent electronic attack and high energy laser (HEL) effectors.
Each LOCUST can deliver a layered detection and identification capability from a fixed or mobile platform with HEL shoot-on-the-move capability. It is designed to counter UAS activities, and the technologies and approach are scalable to provide a compact, rugged, and modular multi-mission system to conduct more effective and efficient detection, identification, management, and mitigation of Group 1 and Group 2 UAS threats.