Raytheon Delivers First Anti-Drone Laser Weapon to U.S. Air Force

Raytheon has announced that it delivered the first publicly acknowledged anti-drone laser weapon to the U.S. Air Force earlier this month. The military contractor said the Air Force will deploy the weapon in a year-long experiment overseas in order to train people how to use it and test its effectiveness out in the real world.

Drones, also known within the military community as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), have seen a tremendous jump in use by terrorist organizations like ISIS in the past decade. And while the U.S. Navy has been testing an anti-drone laser since at least 2017, this is the first public handover of such a weapon to the Air Force.

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The “directed energy” weapon uses an electro-optical/infrared sensor to identify potential threats before using a laser to knock dangerous drones out of the sky. The laser can be powered using a standard 220-volt outlet and when it’s hooked up to a generator it can provide a “nearly infinite number of shots.”

“Five years ago, few people worried about the drone threat,” Roy Azevedo, president of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, said in a statement published to the company’s website. “Now, we hear about attacks or incursions all the time. Our customers saw this coming and asked us to develop a ready-now counter-UAS capability. We did just that by going from the drawing board to delivery in less than 24 months.”

Video posted by Raytheon to YouTube back in the summer of 2018 shows how the weapon system works to engage potential threats.

Despite the declaration by Raytheon that this is a “first” anti-drone weapon given to the Air Force, lasers have been used by the U.S. military on the battlefield for over a decade. The ZEUS laser system has reportedly been used by the U.S. military to destroy IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan dating back to 2003.

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Research into laser weapons started almost immediately after lasers were first developed in the 1960s. The U.S. military began experimenting with anti-drone laser weapons since at least the 1970s. ARPA (now DARPA) first blasted a drone out of the sky in 1973 using a laser weapon that worked by heating up the engine of an aircraft, causing it to explode.

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Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog