The U.S. Army successfully tested a high-energy laser beam to zap apart mortar rounds and drones while they were in mid-flight.
The solid state laser was mounted to a tactical military vehicle and carried out multiple tests between Nov. 18 and Dec. 10 at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
It was an important milestone for the Army toward its goal of using large lasers as a protection capability at military installations against incoming rockets, artillery and cruise missiles.
The weapon, called the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, involves a 10-kilowatt laser beam fired from a eight-wheeled vehicle that resembles a garbage truck.
A dome-shaped turret called the beam director rotates 360 degrees and contains a set of mirrors that point and focus the beam on a target, so the solid state laser can engage it.
In the video of the test, football-sized mortar rounds are fired in high-arching trajectories and traveling at low velocities before being blasted apart. Drones are seen coasting along in flight before their tails catch on fire and nose-dive to the ground.
In all, the Army targeted and destroyed more than 90 incoming mortar rounds and several drones.
The targets were chosen because they are representative of the likely threats that are encountered by forces on the battlefield, the Army said.
The Army’s testing involved a 10-kilowatt laser, which will be brought to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for more rigorous testing, including in inclement weather.
The Army hopes to increase the laser's power to 50 kilowatts, then again to 100 kilowatts in subsequent demonstrations.
Since fiscal 2007, the Pentagon has spent $117 million on the program. Boeing Co. is the prime contractor.
An additional $13.9 million for the program is included in President Obama's budget request for next year.
In 2011, the Navy had success with another laser system mounted on a warship when it fired and set fire to an empty motorboat as it bobbed in the Pacific Ocean. It was the first time the Navy pulled off such a feat.
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