Video of Navy Laser Shooting Unmanned Drone Out of the Sky

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navy laser shoots UAV

Shooting drones out of the sky with robotic lasers...I love technology. (Artist's rendering)

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Supe—ZZZT! Well, whatever it was, it’s fried now. The US Navy recently tested a Raytheon infrared laser system by shooting down four unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) off San Nicholas Island near California. To knock out each UAV, six solid state lasers were controlled by Raytheon’s Phalanx, a radar guided gun system that is already used in the field. This 32 kilowatt Laser Phalanx system worked like a charm: four out of four UAV were destroyed over the Pacific. To celebrate, Raytheon shared footage of a UAV being burned out of the sky at the Farnborough Air Show. Check out the video below. Drone killing robot lasers for the win!


They may not look like they’re ready for Star Wars, but laser weapons are getting closer to being publicly used in the field. In 2007, Raytheon used a Laser-Phalanx prototype to knock mortar shells out of the air. Boeing had notable success with burning a hole in a truck with an airplane-based laser weapon last year. Now the Navy is knocking down UAVs like flies. Raytheon also announced that they’ll be working on a counter measure laser system called Scorpion, an anti-personnel laser (which will “uncomfortably heat” trespassers), and an airport security laser that could take down shoulder launched missiles. While difficult to maintain and considerably more fragile than many projectile systems, laser weapons have superior accuracy and a never ending magazine – as long as you have electricity, you have “bullets”. Once they can be perfected, laser systems will augment military defense and offense, hitting high speed targets with lethal amounts of heat and light.

In the following video you can see a plume form as soon as the laser strikes the UAV. The laser light itself is invisible (infrared).

While the Laser-Phalanx system may seem futuristic, it’s basically just two different technologies hacked together: solid state lasers and a robotic gun. The Phalanx system uses a gaitling gun guided by radar to destroy objects moving too quickly for humans to hit. Almost every single US Navy ship operates with a Phalanx on board. Land based versions have been used to counter rockets artillery and mortar (C-RAM) in Iraq’s Green Zone. Adding a laser simply takes the robot gun and improves its range and accuracy. Having lethal lasers in the hands of automated systems is a bit unsettling, but considering we already let them use machine guns I’m not too worried.

The Navy’s duck hunting test with lasers and UAVs was pretty impressive, but it’s likely to take several years before a system like the Laser Phalanx could make its way into mass production. By that time, it’s importance could increase drastically. The US military relies heavily on drones for reconnaissance and tactical strikes, but terrorist groups use their own drones to spy on US ships and bases. In five years or so, you can expect that such groups will have many more armed drones, and will also perform quick mortar strikes when the drone locates US soldiers. Having a laser system that can knock down both drones and mortars is going to come in helpful. And hopefully, one day, all this war bullsh*t will be over with and we can focus on using technology to save people’s lives. I already have a job lined up for all the retired military lasers: mosquito hunting.

[image and video credits: Raytheon]
[source: Raytheon, Raytheon VP Mike Booen via Aviation Week]

Discussion — 9 Responses

  • Ryfyle July 27, 2010 on 5:25 am

    You know, this could jump start meta-material research for the development of an anti-laser countermeasure. I have a feeling we’ll just end up going back to projectiles at that point.

  • Ryfyle July 27, 2010 on 1:25 am

    You know, this could jump start meta-material research for the development of an anti-laser countermeasure. I have a feeling we’ll just end up going back to projectiles at that point.

  • Khannea Suntzu July 27, 2010 on 7:04 am

    The end application should be networks of these lasers. If a target (enemy plane, missile, enemy combatant, WTO protester, illegal immigrant, sex offender, Palestine) comes in focus, a web of multiple lasers swivels in, and deposits ‘excitation of the target atoms’ from several directions. People do not yet realize the impact (ha ha) of this. They have this naive idea there will be a single laser somewhere that does this James Bond laser thing and it will just be a continuation of the same old warfare mechanics. However, combine with metalstorm solutions (== sarcastic euphemism) and you’ll have something like ‘battlefield printing’. You don’t pneumatically deposit a single kill – you can deposit a ‘robust incapacitation web’ or have ‘a persistent neutralization zone’. And what’s more, you can GPS these solutions in robotics the size of a small suitcase all over the battlefield, and operators can ‘tap’ these measures as they would a PC game. Drag and drop :) Point and click :) Select and forget :)

    Casual and easy power will eventually will be casual and without any consideration.

    Oh and yes, ‘nebulous cloud solutions’ can be a defense, Ryf – loosely dispersed ablative clouds. But it will be a suck defense and bloody expensive to maintain. And *obvious*.

  • Khannea Suntzu July 27, 2010 on 3:04 am

    The end application should be networks of these lasers. If a target (enemy plane, missile, enemy combatant, WTO protester, illegal immigrant, sex offender, Palestine) comes in focus, a web of multiple lasers swivels in, and deposits ‘excitation of the target atoms’ from several directions. People do not yet realize the impact (ha ha) of this. They have this naive idea there will be a single laser somewhere that does this James Bond laser thing and it will just be a continuation of the same old warfare mechanics. However, combine with metalstorm solutions (== sarcastic euphemism) and you’ll have something like ‘battlefield printing’. You don’t pneumatically deposit a single kill – you can deposit a ‘robust incapacitation web’ or have ‘a persistent neutralization zone’. And what’s more, you can GPS these solutions in robotics the size of a small suitcase all over the battlefield, and operators can ‘tap’ these measures as they would a PC game. Drag and drop :) Point and click :) Select and forget :)

    Casual and easy power will eventually will be casual and without any consideration.

    Oh and yes, ‘nebulous cloud solutions’ can be a defense, Ryf – loosely dispersed ablative clouds. But it will be a suck defense and bloody expensive to maintain. And *obvious*.

  • Larry Lyon July 27, 2010 on 6:01 pm

    An interesting proof of concept test. Phalanx is the perfect platform for this system and replacing the gun with a laser has the advantage of reducing shock which interferes with accuracy.

    A Phalanx variant is currently used to protect high value targets against mortars and rockets in Iraq using a 20 MM Gatling Gun but don’t expect incorporation of a laser until the power is stepped up significantly. Tactical (anti-ship or otherwise) are armored and supersonic while drones are slow and soft. It took this laser about 34 seconds to shoot down the drone, in a tactical situation it might have only ten seconds to explode the warhead. If you need 34 seconds, your dead.

  • Larry Lyon July 27, 2010 on 2:01 pm

    An interesting proof of concept test. Phalanx is the perfect platform for this system and replacing the gun with a laser has the advantage of reducing shock which interferes with accuracy.

    A Phalanx variant is currently used to protect high value targets against mortars and rockets in Iraq using a 20 MM Gatling Gun but don’t expect incorporation of a laser until the power is stepped up significantly. Tactical (anti-ship or otherwise) are armored and supersonic while drones are slow and soft. It took this laser about 34 seconds to shoot down the drone, in a tactical situation it might have only ten seconds to explode the warhead. If you need 34 seconds, your dead.

  • Br February 9, 2011 on 3:57 am

    The machine gun and dynamite were suppose to end “all this war bullsh*t”
    Nieve Aaron.