US military's latest toy set: Record-breaking laser death star, er, truck

An armored station with enough power to destroy an entire... drone

Vid Lockheed Martin says it is ready to deliver its most powerful laser weapon yet to the US military. This Death-Star-on-wheels can shoot down drones, missiles, and similar stuff, we're told.

The American weapons conglomerate self-funded the building of a 30kW test system and then scaled the design up. The 60kW version is mounted on a heavy expanded mobility tactical truck (HEMTT), which has an onboard generator capable of producing 200kW of power. Lockheed says the new laser is 43 per cent power efficient.

"The inherent scalability of this beam-combined laser system has allowed us to build the first 60kW-class fiber laser for the US Army," said Dr Robert Afzal, senior fellow for laser and sensor systems.

"We have shown that a powerful directed energy laser is now sufficiently light-weight, low-volume and reliable enough to be deployed on tactical vehicles for defensive applications on land, at sea and in the air."

The weapon is a beam-combined fiber laser, meaning different laser modules are fired up and they are combined using fiber optic cable into a single light source. Lockheed says the design is currently capable of generating a 60kW beam, and claims the design can go up to 100kW.

Afzad said the laser is near "diffraction-limited," meaning it is operating close to the limit of being able to focus all of the beam's energy in a single spot. As a laser travel through the atmosphere, the beam becomes more diffuse and needs focusing, and it appears Lockheed is approaching the limits of being able to keep the laser tightly focused over long distances.

Here's a vid demonstrating Lockheed's laser system:

Youtube Video

Laser weapons are a key technology that militaries around the work want to crack, because they have several key advantages. They operate at the speed of light, are virtually invisible, and – as long as you have electricity – will never run out of ammunition.

That last point is critical. Missiles cost a lot and using them against cheap targets can get very expensive. Earlier this week, General David Perkins told a military conference – as seen in the video below – that a "close ally" of the US had recently shot down a $200 commercial drone using a $3.2m Patriot missile.

Youtube Video

"I'm not sure that's a good economic-exchange ratio," Perkins said. "In fact, if I'm the enemy, I'm thinking, 'Hey, I'm just going to get on eBay and buy as many of these $300 quadcopters as I can and expend all the Patriot missiles out there'."

Lockheed has tested the weapon against drones, rockets, and trucks and claims that its tracking system is highly effective and capable of keeping the laser beam steady so that it can heat up the target to destruction. The range isn't specified, but is thought to be one or two miles. Sadly Lockheed doesn't have a shark-mounted version.

"Delivery of this laser represents an important milestone along the path to fielding a practical laser weapon system," said Paula Hartley, general manager of advanced product solutions at Lockheed.

"This milestone could not have been achieved without close partnership between the US Army and Lockheed Martin. We are pleased to be able to deliver this system for their further integration and evaluation." ®

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