Boeing this week unveiled one of its latest military projects — a drone-targeting laser cannon. Called the Compact Laser Weapon System, the weapon uses a tracking system and focused laser beam to incinerate a UAV in flight. Boeing demonstrated the laser cannon at a media event that was held recently in Albuquerque, New Mexico and attended by Wired and other publications.
Boeing’s Compact Laser Weapon System is not what you would expect from a laser cannon. The device is smaller than its predecessor, the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) that Boeing revealed last year. It looks more like a camera on a tripod than a weapon used to take down drones. The system is equipped with a two-kilowatt infrared laser that shoots a single beam capable of setting a drone on fire in less than two seconds when fired at full power. It’s designed to run for several years with only basic maintenance, and unlike traditional weaponry, it requires no ammunition.
Designed to be compact, the laser is portable, fitting snugly inside four suitcase-sized boxes and 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 operated from a static position, but future models may be deployed and fired from a moving vehicle or a ship.
So why do we need a drone-busting cannon? Well, the military, law enforcement and other government agencies are concerned that terrorists and other criminal groups may use drones to carry explosives or chemical weapons to areas where those items could cause great damage. They also may be used to smuggle drugs and other items, such as guns and pornography, into areas where they are not allowed.
Boeing’s drone-killer is intended for military purposes, but the technology lends itself to other applications. Law-enforcement agencies and public venues, such as airports, clearly could benefit from this technology. Given the fluctuating state of drone regulation, it is not clear whether such a cannon would be approved for usage by these entities.