Laser cannon designed to shoot drones out of the sky

© Erik De Castro
The US government and military have identified a new threat in modern day warfare: commercial drones adapted to carry explosives or chemical weapons. To address this risk, weapons manufacturer Boeing has invented a portable laser cannon.

Boeing’s new Compact Laser Weapon System (LWS) is easily transportable at 650 pounds, can be assembled in 15 minutes, and can generate an energy beam of 10 kilowatts to bring down a target up to 22 miles away, according to the company.

Boeing publicly tested the laser cannon in a New Mexico industrial park on Wednesday and called the new weapon a game changer as it’s portable, silent, invisible and precise. It is designed to target unmanned aerial vehicles, low-flying aircraft, and artillery rounds.

The LWS is housed in four containers, which include a battery, a commercial fiber laser, a water-cooled chiller, and a beam director. Once assembled, it resembles a sub-woofer speaker on a tripod.

During the demonstration, Boeing burned holes in a stationary, composite unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) shell. The drone caught fire just two seconds after being blasted by the LWS blasted at full power.

Developed for the US Marine Corps, the laser cannon is controlled by a standard Xbox 360 controller and a laptop with custom targeting software. Once the target is in range, the system can take over from a human operator and control targeting and tracking automatically. Its current design requires a static position, but with upgrades it could be used on a moving vehicle or ship.

This represents a low-cost way to deal with the threat,” said David DeYoung, director of Boeing Laser & Electro-Optical Systems, according to WIRED.

The system requires a 220-volt outlet which can be supplied by a generator or a battery pack, and the company says the laser can run for years with basic maintenance. The system is being tested by US Special Operations and can be operated by from eight to a dozen Marines.

The LWS was designed to handle threats identified by the US government and its military, such as the proliferation in the use of commercial drones that could easily be adapted to carry explosives or chemical weapons.

They [laser weapon systems] are able to engage targets, and Boeing has an edge in this as we have been developing lasers for tens of years,” said DeYoung in a YouTube video published by the company.

Other weapons manufacturers have developed anti-drone shotgun shells and jamming technology, but Boeing plans to just zap the enemy out of the sky.