Ray gunsLaser weapon tracks, destroys drones, mortar rounds in mid-flight

Published 10 January 2013

A 50kW high energy laser (HEL) weapon technology demonstrator successfully passed demanding tests in Switzerland; in the first test, a massive, 15mm-thick steel girder was cut through from a distance of 1,000 meters; even more impressively, the HEL shot down several nose-diving target drones at a range of two kilometers; the drones were flying at speeds over 50 meters a second, but the system’s radar had no trouble picking up the incoming unmanned aerial vehicles at a distance of three kilometers, before they were destroyed by the laser beam at a 2-km range; the HEL also tracked and destroyed a steel ball measuring 82 mm in diameter and travelling at approximately 50 m/sec – replicating a mortar round – in mid-air

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Arms races are defined by an action-reaction cycle. Every new weapon system meets, in time, its counter-weapon response which is deployed to negate the new system’s advantages. UAVs have been adopted by militaries around the world as an effective and in expensive means to perform intelligence gathering and hunting-killing operations. German company Rheinmetall Defense, located in Düsseldorf, says it has now developed a laser weapon that can take down drones.

The company says it has successfully tested its new 50kW high-energy weapon technology demonstrator. Conducted at the end of November, the test encompassed the entire operational sequence from target detection and tracking to target engagement. The 123-year old company has made a name for itself as a pioneer in high-energy laser (HEL) technology.

The test was conducted at Rheinmetall’s Ochsenboden Proving Groud (EZO) in Switzerland, in snowy conditions and harsh sunlight, and was initially supposed to show the increase in efficiency of the 50kW HEL weapon compared with the 10kW version demonstrated last year. A five-fold increase in laser power was thus available for the individual scenarios, which included Air Defense, Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar/C-RAM, and Asymmetric Warfare operations.

The tests were intended to prove that separately located HEL weapon stations using Rheinmetall’s existing Beam Superimposing Technology (BST) are able to irradiate a single target in a superimposed, cumulative manner. This modular technology approach makes it possible to maintain the very good beam quality of the individual laser modules, increasing overall performance several times over. Thus, the company notes, from the technical stand-point, nothing stands in the way of a future HEL weapon system with a 100kW output.

The 50kW HEL weapon technology demonstrator consisted of two functional models: a 30kW weapon station integrated into an Oerlikon Revolver Gun air defense turret for static and dynamic tests, coupled with an Oerlikon Skyguard fire control unit; and a 20kW weapon station integrated into a Revolver Gun turret of the first-generation, patched in for static tests. There were also additional modules for supplying power.

The demonstration, witnessed by military experts, delivered compelling evidence for the 50kW HEL weapon technology demonstrator’s high stability: a massive, 15mm-thick steel girder was cut through at a distance of 1,000 meters. The successful shooting down of several nose-diving target drones at a range of two kilometers formed the second major highlight. Though they were flying at over 50 meters a second, the Skyguard radar had no trouble detecting