The US Armed Forces have clearly been watching Austin Powers, because it seems they are sticking lasers on everything! (Apart from sharks sadly…)
The Army has the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL-MD) and are working on a Star Wars-esque laser gun attachments for their rifles, the Navy have a battleship-mounted railgun aboard the USS Ponce (that is the actual name!) and now the Air Force are getting involved.
Within the next five years, the Air Force are expecting to have laser mounted weapons of their own. Dubbed as directed-energy weapons pods, these devices will be mounted onto warplanes and will be used to burn incoming missiles, take down UAVs and even be used with direct aircraft combat.
The 150 kW High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defence System (HELLADS) is currently the frontrunner to win the contract from DARPA, even though the system has only just entered ground tests. The prototype is in the third generation and measures 1.3 x 0.4 x 0.5 metres, which is small enough to fit onto a Predator C UAV. The system runs off a single lithium ion battery pack, and achieves exactly what DARPA want to achieve by 2018.
DARPA are looking to have a 150 kilowatt laser system which is ten times lighter and smaller than current lasers of similar power, to provide protection against ground threats, as well as those in the sky.
Before the system goes into operational service, it must first pass a set of field tests against rockets, mortars, UAVs, surface to air missiles and both air and ground vehicles, at a test range in New Mexico.
We’re not sure if lasers will make it into every walk of life (a laser on an air pistols won’t work too well we don’t think), but it will be interesting how these developments work out for the military.