Raytheon's Laser-Dune-Buggy Blasts Drone-Swarm Out Of The Sky

Earlier this year, Raytheon boasted in a press release about combining a solid-state laser with an advanced variant of the company’s Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS) of sensors — mounted on a militarized all-terrain Polaris light-vehicle. The press release describes the vehicle as an “agile, mobile, and effective” war machine to protect troops from weaponized unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) threats.

Raytheon said its “engineers and physicists are doing something that has never been done before,” and frankly, the militarized laser dune buggy looks like it is straight out of the Mad Max movies.

“Basically, we’re putting a laser on a dune buggy to knock drones out of the sky,” said Dr. Ben Allison, director of Raytheon’s high-energy laser program.

“It’s actually a little more complicated than that,” Allison added.

Allison’s team has managed to mount a high-energy laser with an advanced variant of Raytheon’s Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS), an advanced package of electro-optical/ infrared (EO/IR), laser designation, and laser illumination capabilities integrated into a single sensor onto the bed of a Polaris MRZR.

As stated by Allison, the concept of laser blasting drones from the sky with dune buggies was conceived from a meeting with Raytheon’s CEO Chairman Tom Kennedy last year. Kennedy expressed his disbelief to Allison when an allied nation [most likely Israel] used the Patriot missile system to intercept cheap weaponized drones outfitted with grenade-like munitions.

Typical quadcopters used by terrorist groups are worth several hundred dollars, while Patriot missiles cost about $2 million per rocket.

“That cost-to-kill ratio is high,” explained Allison, “but the threat is clear. So, the question became, ‘What can we do for a counter-UAS system using a high-energy laser, and do it quickly. We didn’t want to go out and do a bunch of research and development. We wanted to take the assets and capabilities Raytheon has today and use them to really affect this asymmetrical threat. We settled on a small system that’s hugely capable.”

Here is Raytheon’s Laser Dune Buggy versus a Drone in action: 

According to Raytheon’s latest press release, around forty-five unmanned aerial vehicles and drones were blasted out of the sky, downed by the company’s “advanced high-power microwave and laser dune buggy.” The field training exercise known as Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment was recently conducted at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Raytheon states that high-ranking military and defense industry officials spectated the field training exercise to grasp an understanding of new “ways to bridge the Army’s capability gaps in long-range fires and maneuver short-range air defense.”

Highlights from the event include:

  • Raytheon’s high-power microwave system engaged multiple UAV swarms, downing 33 drones, two and three at a time.

  • Raytheon’s high energy laser, or HEL, system identified, tracked, engaged and downed 12 airborne, maneuvering Class I and II UAVs, and destroyed six stationary mortar projectiles.

Within the press release, it seems as Raytheon was testing yet another high-energy gun at Fort Still — separate from the laser dune buggy. Raytheon describes the weapon as a “directed energy system emits an adjustable energy beam that, when aimed at airborne targets such as drones, renders them unable to fly.”

“The speed and low cost per engagement of directed energy is revolutionary in protecting our troops against drones,” said Dr. Thomas Bussing, Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice president. “We have spent decades perfecting the high-power microwave system, which may soon give our military a significant advantage against this proliferating threat.”

“Our customer needed a solution, and they needed it fast,” said Dr. Ben Allison, director of Raytheon’s HEL product line. “So, we took what we’ve learned and combined it with combat-proven components to rapidly deliver a small, self-contained and easily deployed counter-UAV system.”

Interesting enough, we reported on Tuesday, the Army is scrambling to plug the gap in short-range defenses. In doing so, the Army is testing its Mobile High Energy Lasers (MEHEL) mounted on the M1126 Stryker armoured personnel carriers in Europe. The Stryker-mounted MEHEL is designed for short-range aerial threats, such as weaponized drones.

U.S. Soldiers from the Field Artillery Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment are now equipped with newly developed laser weapon MEHEL mounted on 8×8 Stryker armoured vehicle. The Stryker with MEHEL 2.0 was presented for the first time on General Dynamics Land Systems booth during the AUSA exhibition in Washington D.C. in October 2016 equipped with a 5kW beam director.

The 5 kW laser project is part of the Mobile Experimental High Energy Laser. It represents an advance over a previous laser tested in 2016, and will lead into more powerful, longer ranging anti-drone, anti-missile laser systems. The Stryker-mounted MEHEL has proven to be extremely efficient in eliminating enemy drone targets, and its use in Europe will help the U.S. Army to assess emerging concepts, technologies and interoperability.

With millions of commercial and hobby drones buzzing in the skies around the world, it seems like the Pentagon has taken notice of the growing threat that these drones could be soon weaponized. After all, the Pentagon has more than 800 military bases around the world...

It is increasingly evident that the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and its allies cannot afford to use a $2 million Patriot missile to blast a $500 drone from the sky. As a result, to lower the cost-to-kill ratio, the Pentagon has decided to start strapping drone-killing lasers to its war machines. As we have said before, you are starting to get the picture of how the next war will be fought... Have you prepared?