Lasers have long been a staple of science fiction weaponry — but they are also becoming much closer to reality on the battlefields of today.
American weapons maker Lockheed Martin recently proved it can shoot down enemy drones with a live-fire test of its ATHENA laser weapon system.
According to a company release, the 30-kilowatt laser was fired against five unmanned aerial vehicles and "defeated airborne targets in flight by causing loss of control and structural failure" during the test, which was conducted in conjunction with Army Space and Missile Defense Command.
The Athena laser weapon system. (Youtube Screenshot from Lockheed video)
A video released by Lockheed showed that the targets, MQM-170C Outlaw drones, based on the Griffon Aerospace G2, were destroyed in crashes caused by the damage inflicted on the tail by the laser. Designation-Systems.net notes that the MQM-170A version of the Outlaw, based on Griffon's G1 has a top speed of 120 miles per hour, can fly as high as 16,000 feet, and has as much as four hours of flight time.
The need to take down enemy drones has been acutely demonstrated in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. During the fighting for Mosul, the radical Islamic terrorist group made extensive use of UAVs, including spotting for mortar gunners, as well as to carry out small bomb attacks.
One particularly insidious tactic was to land a booby-trapped drone, and then to detonate it as coalition troops attempted to recover it.
The development of lasers has been advancing in recent years, and while right now they're being used to target drones, that's not all defense planners have planned for beam weapons.
One of five MQM-170C Outlaws moments before impact after its tail surface was damaged by Lockheed's ATHENA laser. (Youtube Screenshot from Lockheed video)
"As we mature the technology behind laser weapon systems, we're making the entire system more effective and moving closer to a laser weapon that will provide greater protection to our warfighters by taking on more sophisticated threats from a longer range," Lockheed Martin's Chief Technology Officer, Keoki Jackson, said.
You can see a video of the Outlaws being put into the ground by the laser below.