US Military's New Laser Gun Zaps Drones

Boeing's mobile laser.
Boeing's High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD). (Image credit: Boeing)

The U.S. military is now one step closer to having a laser gun that can shoot down enemy drones in the blink of an eye.

Boeing recently announced that its mobile laser weapon, dubbed the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), successfully shot down more than 150 drones, rockets and other mock enemy targets in a third round of tests. The trials prove that the laser weapon is reliable and capable of consistently "acquiring, tracking and engaging a variety of targets in different environments," according to Boeing.

The most recent demonstration of the 10-kilowatt, high-energy laser took place at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The laser was installed on a military vehicle, making it the first mobile, high-energy laser built and demonstrated by the U.S. Army, according to Boeing. [7 Technologies That Transformed Warfare]

Directed-energy technologies like the HEL MD could soon be used by the military to augment what are known as kinetic strike weapons, such as missile interceptors, that don't contain explosives but destroy targets by colliding with them at extreme speeds.

Kinetic strike weapons are expensive, and the HEL MD could offer "a significant reduction in cost per engagement," Dave DeYoung, Boeing's directed-energy systems director, said in a statement.

This push for laser weaponryis part of the U.S. military's Ground-Based Air Defense Directed Energy On-the-Move (GBAD) program. The goal of the program is to provide what officials from the Office of Naval Research call an "affordable alternative to traditional firepower," to guard against drones and other enemy threats.

The recent demonstration of Boeing's mobile laser weapon is just a prelude of things to come. By 2016, the military plans to have a 30-kilowatt laser gun ready for testing, according to the Office of Naval Research.

And Boeing isn't the only defense contractor working with the military to develop high-powered laser weapons. In August, the Office of Naval Research awarded Raytheon an $11 million contract to build a vehicle-mounted laser device capable of shooting down low-flying enemy targets. The system will reportedly generate at least 25 kilowatts of energy, which will make it more than twice as powerful as the laser recently tested by Boeing.

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Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth is a former Live Science associate editor and current director of audience development at the Chamber of Commerce. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.