Laser guns may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but engineers at the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command - Technical Center at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, have successfully developed and tested just such a system, known as High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, or HEL MD.
Dee Formby, an engineer involved in its development, said that a 10-kilowatt laser, mounted on a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck A4 platform, successfully took out 60mm mortars and unmanned aerial vehicles at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, last year.
Once the laser locks on, it essentially fries its target, Formby said. It is a cost-effective way to destroy cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, mortars, rockets and artillery.
In good weather, the laser achieves a high success rate, he said. Right now, the system does not perform as well in degraded weather and atmospheric conditions. Distance-to-target remains classified.
In 2017, a 50-kW version will be tested, followed by a 100-kW demonstration in 2020. Higher power means quicker kill-time of the projectile, he said, because more power is on the target.