REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - The US Army is justifiably proud of the capability of its unmanned aircraft systems. They give war fighters an invaluable pair of far-seeing eyes. The problem is, the bad guys have their own unmanned systems, their own drones. Troops need protection from those eyes. "You could lock on the target. It's a dime sized (beam) at a mile, and you can shoot down this quad-copter in 11-seconds," said Boeing's John Matlock.
The quad-copper John is referring to has multiple melted areas on its plastic surface. It's obviously too damaged to fly. it was hit by directed energy, disabled by a laser. That laser managed at Boeing in Huntsville and called a "Compact Laser Weapon System." Focused light does the work of downing the drone, not bullets. "For a few ounces of fuel you can fire the laser for seven minutes versus having to bring ammunition out on the battlefield," said John Matlock.
Boeing has tested the system in field conditions, and while it wasn't perfect, it did shoot down 23 of 25 targets. That's with Boeing technicians at the controls. "The next step is to let Soldiers and Marines get on these systems, use them in an operational environment, force on force, and to demonstrate they're ready to go," said Matlock.
The thing to remember, it's not just spying drones that might need shooting down. There could be drones carrying explosives intended to hit a Forward Operating Base, a FOB, that's full of Americans. "If we can shoot these down, do a hard kill before it even gets close to a FOB, then you can save lives that way," said Boeing's John Matlock.
Boeing will be adding more power to its vehicle mounted laser. John Matlock said if the U.S. Government decides to field the equipment, the "Compact Laser Weapon System" would be ready for deployment next year.
The program is already managed in Huntsville, and the equipment would be manufactured at Boeing's Huntsville facility.