The Air Force’s newest weapon brings the pew-pew of high-energy lasers to a vehicle that looks like it came out of a “Mad Max” movie.
The service took delivery from Raytheon earlier this month of the first high-energy laser weapon system (HELWS) to counter unmanned aerial systems. 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, according to a company news release.
In recent years, cheap, off-the-shelf drones have proliferated, posing a threat to U.S. forces on the battlefield, as well as to air bases.
The weapon system being tested uses an advanced variant of the company’s Multi-spectral Targeting System, an electro-optical/infrared sensor, to detect, identify and track enemy drones. Once targeted, the system engages the threatening drones and knocks them out of the sky in a matter of seconds.
“Five years ago, few people worried about the drone threat,” said Roy Azevedo, president of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, in the release. “Now, we hear about attacks or incursions all the time. Our customers saw this coming and asked us to develop a ready-now counter-UAS capability. We did just that by going from the drawing board to delivery in less than 24 months.”
Because the high-energy laser weapon system is so small, Raytheon was able to install it on a Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicle, which makes it well-suited for protecting forward operating bases in an expeditionary environment.
On a single charge from a standard 220-volt outlet, like the one you plug your washing machine into, the HELWS can deliver four hours of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability and 20 to 30 laser shots, according to the company. “It can also be paired with a generator to provide a nearly infinite number of shots,” the release stated.