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The Army Is Getting a New Laser Cannon and It Can Shoot Drones Out of the Sky

"This is not a science fiction thing, it's here, it's today, it's ready to go."

(Image source: Boeing)

A successful test of the Army's new truck-mounted laser means another branch of the Defense Department will have a "megawatt death ray" at its disposal.

Four years ago, when the Navy was testing its version of solid-state lasers and successfully setting fire to small vessel engines, the then-chief of naval research said "of course" the military would want the "death ray[s]." Now the Army has its own version, dubbed the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator.

(Image source: Boeing) The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator was successful in its tests to shoot down several airborne targets despite heavy fog. (Image source: Boeing)

"This is not a science fiction thing, it's here, it's today, it's ready to go," said Kurt Warden, Boeing's DES software development lead. "The demo is all about showcasing this system for the warfighters showing them in a tactitical environment, demonstrating that it's not a laboratory experiment."

The laser works by creating an incredibly powerful, highly focused beam of light and aiming it at a moving target. The light transfers a damaging amount of heat so the target either explodes or its flight capabilites are compromised, causing it to crash.

The primary mission of the HEL MD is to defeat mortar shells fired at ground troops. Boeing announced Thursday that the solid-state laser technology — essentially a high-energy laser mounted on a big truck — was successfully used to blast some UAV drones and 60mm mortars out of the Florida sky earlier this year, according to Wired.

Maybe the most noteworthy part of the test was nature's hurdle: The laser still tracked and fried its intended targets, even though it was a foggy day.

From Wired:

This test was done in a windy and foggy environment, an essential step to proving the technology is useful for naval deployment. The HEL MD used a 10-kilowatt laser — a much less powerful version of what it will eventually fire — to “successfully engage” more than 150 targets at Eglin Air Force Base, a Department of Defense weapons testing facility on the Florida Panhandle. In other words, it disabled or destroyed them.

Despite Warden's statement, the laser won't be seen in the field for at least another few years. Boeing still needs to boost the laser's power to a “tactically significant power level” -- at least 50 or 60 kilowatts -- for use against incoming rockets, artillery and mortar strikes, and UAV drones.

After 10 years and a $36 million contract, the Army and Boeing my finally have a working platform in the field soon.  Check out the video that describes the system:

(H/T: Wired)

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Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter

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