The news: The United States Army has successfully tested an anti-drone laser defense system. Let's put that another way: THE ARMY HAS A FREAKING LASER, PEOPLE.
The Army's newest toy is the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, known as the HEL MD, which shoots a "quarter sized" laser beam at its targets. According to the Army, the HEL MD will be used for "protection capabilities against rockets, artillery, mortars, unmanned aerial vehicles [drones], and exposed unexploded ordnance." Only in an Army fact sheet about a laser will the word "unexploded" seem normal.
How it works: The HEL MD aims its invisible beam at its target, heating up the spot until the enemy is neutralized. The laser can target the wings or tail of a drone, or even its navigation sensors.
During the Army's recent tests, the HEL MD successfully shot down 90 mortar rounds and six to seven drones. Apparently, the HEL MD has performed "above and beyond" expectations, proving far more successful than Army officials anticipated. Check out video of one of its recent tests below:
This is the future. This is now.
The backstory: The Army has been testing the current laser systems for two years now, since the program began in 2011. In phase one of testing, the Army revealed the HEL TD, the armored truck that the HEL MD will be mounted on top of to create the defense system.
There has been a bit of a laser-trend going around the U.S. military lately. On top of the Army's HEL MD, in 2011 the Navy successfully tested its Maritime Laser Demonstrator. It blew up a small boat. And because life is great, there's video of that test, too:
But this is just the beginning: The Army is spending $13 million per year on its laser development, with eyes toward the future. The HEL MD currently operates at around 10 kilowatts, but Army officials believe it can go much stronger. The goal is to eventually increase the laser's strength to 100 kilowatts. If a 10 kilowatt laser is exceeding expectations right now, just imagine what a laser 10 times as strong could do. That, along with plans to scale down the size of the laser system, means the U.S. Army sees lasers as the future of its defense systems. And as ridiculous as that sounds, it's also really awesome.
People have wanted fully functional lasers since Star Wars. With these developments from the Army, it might not be too long before we see lasers enter mainstream combat. As it stands, though, the HEL MD is about 10 years away from being used routinely, but it's worth noting that the Army is betting a lot on laser technology. That should more than please the sci-fi nerd inside of us all.
Just don't expect the Army's laser to start shooting down Amazon drones. Or maybe, do expect that. Who knows what the future holds anymore?