The makers of a new system with laser and microwave elements promises that it can provide almost limitless protection to troops from enemy drones as long as it's provided stable power. The directed energy weapons burn enemy drones or disable their guidance and control, potentially bringing down entire swarms quickly.
Top Army air defenders and others from Army fires have been trying for years to figure out how to efficiently counter enemy drone swarms. We have missiles that can shoot them down, and weapons like C-RAM could easily be modified to fight drones, but both of them are expensive and can produce collateral damage. Now, Raytheon says it has a solution that's cheaper, safer, and essentially unlimited.
The high energy laser mounted on the back can take out one enemy drone at a time, but in quick succession. Its sister is a microwave system that can take down multiple drones at once.
Raytheon's "advanced high power microwave and mobile high energy laser systems" are really two programs that work together to defeat entire drone swarms.
The High Energy Laser is super mobile and can even be mounted on all-terrain vehicles like the Polaris MRZR in use by special operators and airborne units, as well as other forces, in the Army. Only one high-energy laser can engage a drone at a time, but it can do so quickly. In a 2018 test, the laser burned out 12 drones as they attempted to maneuver.
But the more powerful, less mobile microwave system took out almost three times as many, 33, in the same test. The High Power Microwaves disrupt the drones' guidance systems, and it can attack entire swarms at once. In the Army test in 2018, it was downing two or three at a time while the laser was smoking 'em one at a time.
But those early tests weren't the end of the program. In April 2019, Raytheon brought the machines back out for an Air Force demonstration to prove it was mature and ready to fight.
A press release from that demonstration promises, "High power microwave operators can focus the beam to target and instantly defeat drone swarms. With a consistent power supply, an HPM system can provide virtually unlimited protection."
As America faces a possible war with Iran, the ability to defeat drone swarms will come into sharp focus. Iran has famously adopted a tactic of attempting to overwhelm American defensive measures with dozens or hundreds of boats or drones. Since America has historically spent thousands or millions of dollars per intercept, a strategy of using cheap drones or boats en masse could overwhelm American logistics quickly.
A Stryker with the Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser equipped takes part in a test at Fort Sill.
But if Raytheon's new toys work as advertised, it shifts the cost back to the aggressor. With a steady power source, America could ravage an attacker's fleet of vehicles for the cost of a few dozen gallons of diesel for the generators.
Unfortunately for the troops currently in the Middle East, this robust of anti-drone tech isn't currently out there. But a Patriot battery is being deployed to protect troops from missiles and jet attacks, and there are plenty of assets in theater that can deal with nearly anything Iran has ready to fight.
But best of all is if current equipment like the Patriots and future options like microwaves and lasers can deter conflict entirely. Some American intelligence has leaked that says the current tensions with Iran can be credited to the regime trying to provoke an American attack or military overreaction that would restore support in Iran for the regime, essentially buying it years or decades more in control.
What's needed are options that can protect American troops without being offensive threats to regimes. And lasers and microwaves fit that bill nicely. It remains to be seen if the branches will determine Raytheon's offering are the best, though. The Army is working in-house on the Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser 2.0, a Stryker-mounted weapon similar to Raytheon's HEL. And plenty of companies are working to beat Raytheon in the counter drone space.
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