Articles

Army tests laser that shoots down drones

During a recent Army exercise, a prototype laser shot down so many drones that its operator started losing count. "I took down, I want to say, twelve?" Staff Sgt. Eric Davis told reporters. "It was extremely effective."


The Army has made air defense an urgent priority, especially against drones. Once icons of American technological supremacy, unmanned aircraft have proliferated to adversaries around the world. The Islamic State uses them for ad hoc bombing attacks; the Russian army to spot Ukrainian units for artillery barrages.

So last month's Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment threw 14 different types of drones against a slate of counter-UAS technologies, from a .50 caliber machine gun loaded with special drone-killing rounds, to acoustic sensors that listened for incoming drones, to jammers mounted on rugged, air-droppable Polaris 4x4s.

But the laser was the star.

The Army wants to arm the versatile Stryker combat vehicle with high-energy lasers to defeat a variety of threats — including drones. (Photo: US Army)

"We had a lot of fun with the Stryker vehicle this time," said John Haithcock, the civilian director of the Fires Battle Lab at Fort Sill, which hosts the exercise. The Stryker is a moderately armored eight-wheel-drive vehicle, lighter than an M1 tank or M2 Bradley but much heavier and more robust than a Humvee or MRAP, and its boxy hull has proved adaptable to a host of variants.

Earlier MFIX exercises had tested a counter-drone Stryker, with radar and optical sensors to detect drones, plus jammers to scramble drones' datalinks, causing them to lose contact with their operators and even crash. Two prototypes of this CMIC vehicle (Counter-UAS Mobile Integrated Capability) are now in Europe with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, the unit on the cutting edge of testing new technology to counter the Russians.

But there's still space and electrical power to spare on the CMIC Stryker, so for April's MFIX the Army added the 5 kilowatt laser, derived from the Boeing-General Dynamics MEHEL 2-kw prototype. For November's MFIX, they plan to double the power, 10 kilowatts, which will let it kill drones faster — since the beam delivers more energy per second — and further away. If November's tests go equally well, Haithcock said, the 10 kw laser Stryker will graduate to an Army-led Joint Warfighting Assessment at Fort Bliss, Texas, where soldiers will test it in all-out mock battle.

Not that the MFIX exercise was easy: Soldiers operating the laser Stryker had to contend with real drones and simulated artillery barrages. Just managing the Stryker's complex capabilities — laser, radar, jammers, sensors — was challenging. In fact, a big part of the experiment was assessing whether the soldiers' suffered "task saturation," a polite way of saying "overloaded."

"The crew on the Stryker had never worked together….We didn't know each other," Staff Sgt. Davis said. "(But) all the systems were pretty easy to use, and after 15-20 minutes, I was able to program all the different types of equipment."

Once the shooting started, he managed to multi-task, Davis said: "I was able to troubleshoot the radar while I was using the laser." The artillerymen manning the laser Stryker were even able to continue acting as forward observers, spotting targets for artillery attack, at the same time they defended the force against incoming drones.

A Stryker-mounted 10 kw laser should be far more maneuverable and survivable on the front lines than the Army's early experiment, a 10 kw weapon on an unarmored heavy truck. (The truck's still in play as a platform for a 60 kw long-range laser to kill artillery rockets). But a Stryker is too much hardware for the Army's light infantry brigades, which mostly move on foot with a smattering of Humvees and other offroad vehicles.

For those forces, this MFIX experimented with splitting the CMIC kit of sensors and jammers across two Polaris MRZR 4x4s. The Army also tested a heavy-duty jammer called the Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS), currently mounted on a cargo pallet in the back of a medium truck but potentially Polaris-transportable as well. No word whether they can make a laser that compact — at least, not yet.

History

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

Despite having two horses shot out from under him, history would have been much different if George Washington was born a 90-pound weakling. As it was, he was an abnormally large man, especially for the American Colonies. At 6'2" and weighing more than 200 pounds, he was literally and figuratively a giant of a man. This might be why nine diseases, Indian snipers, and British cannon shot all failed to take the big man down.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Lists

The 6 dumbest things I thought I knew about the military before joining

When I joined the military, I didn't have a lot of time for things like "background research" or "making an informed decision about doing something that might affect the rest of my life." I didn't even look into which branch I should join. I just walked up to the line at the recruiters' offices. Like a drunk stumbling through the streets late at night on the hunt for food, I went with whatever was open at the moment I got there.

Keep reading... Show less

5 of the stupidest diseases you can develop at the gym

Ladies and gentlemen, for years, we've noticed an ongoing problem that occurs when certain people at the gym are looking for a little extra attention. After completing just a few repetitions of a weighted exercise, gym-goers develop horrible douchebag diseases that, over time, become harder to reverse.

If you know anyone who suffers from these or similar ailments, please contact a gym professional for immediate treatment.

Keep reading... Show less
Humor

11 memes that will remind you how boot you were

Newbies who first enter the military typically have a pretty tough time. They are continuously reminded that they suck by their superiors and are treated like children 99% of the time.

Now, fast forward in your military career a few years and, hopefully, you're an NCO by now. You look upon the boots who've just joined and probably say to yourself, "I hope I was never that bad..."

Keep reading... Show less

North Korea is still hitting 17 countries with cyber attacks

A North Korea-linked hacking group has been tied to a series of cyberattacks spanning 17 countries, far larger than initially thought.

A new report by McAfee Advanced Threat Research found a major hacking campaign, dubbed Operation GhostSecret, sought to steal sensitive data from a wide range of industries including critical infrastructure, entertainment, finance, healthcare, and telecommunications.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

6 things platoon medics absolutely hate

Navy Corpsmen and Army medics are some of the best medical professionals in the world who go above and beyond to render care to sick and wounded troops in the line of duty.

Although the armed forces' "docs" have earned tons of combat decorations throughout their proud history, not every part of the job feels valorous or glamorous. In fact, many docs must accomplish tasks they absolutely hate in order to do their job well. Here are just a few of unpleasant functions the job requires.

Keep reading... Show less

The US slammed Russia for moving more weapons into Syria

Russia has ratcheted up military tensions in Syria by announcing it would send the advanced S-300 missile defense system to Syria, and the US military had a savage response.

Asked for comment on the announced movement of the missile defense batteries to Syria, Maj. Josh T. Jacques of the US Military's Central Command, which covers the Middle East, said Russia "should move humanitarian aid into Syria, not more weaponry."

Keep reading... Show less