American defense firm Raytheon unveiled its anti-aircraft laser, of all places, at an airshow in England. Called the Laser Close-In Weapon System, Raytheon said the 50 kilowatt beam it produces can be used against aircraft, mortars, rockets, and small surface ships, and has already been tested against unmanned aerial vehicles.
And the technology is now being ported to another military invention. "We've tied this into Phalanx, the U.S. Navy's anti-missile defense system that links a multiple barreled 20mm Gatling gun to a radar guidance mechanism," said Mike Booen, VP of Raytheon Missile Systems. "It functions as the last line of defense, so if you can fit a laser onto it, you have a longer reach and an unlimited magazine, cause it keeps throwing out photons."
The idea of shooting photons may feel like something out of Star Wars (the Phalanx is actually nicknamed "R2-D2"), but it's actually a concept that dates back to 1950s, when scientists first thought to use lasers as weapons. Raytheon's anti-aircraft system marks a huge step forward for laser weaponry, though one problem still plagues the technology: weather conditions. In the foggy and moist ocean air, a laser's energy would actually be absorbed before it reaches its target, thus rendering it ineffective. Raytheon also acknowledges that certain surfaces and materials can absorb the laser's power.
"Every material reflects, but you can overcome this with power; once you get over a certain threshold—measured in multiple kilowatts—then the laser does what it is designed to do," Booen said. But in its first tests, UAVs proved no match for the striking power of Raytheon's Laser Close-In Weapon System, marking the first time ever an unmanned aerial vehicle had been neutralized in a marine environment.
"It was a bad day for UAVs and a good one for laser technology," Booen boasted.
Head here to see Raytheon's new laser or check out the Phalanx in action below: