Flying military robots armed with high-energy lasers? It’s a future that is exciting, terrifying — and perhaps just two years away.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., or GA–ASI, the San Diego-based company that makes the Predator and Reaper drones, is undertaking a privately funded study to integrate a 150-kilowatt solid-state laser onto its Avenger (née Predator-C) drone. If the company succeeds, a drone with a high-energy laser will be a reality at some point in 2017, company executives toldDefense One.
“We’re funded right now to develop a laser module compatible with the aircraft and study putting it on the Avenger,” Michael Perry, Vice President for Mission Systems at GA–ASI, told Defense One. “We hope to be funded to do that,” he said.
The company is far better known for its MQ-1s and MQ-9s — the backbones of the Pentagon’s drone strike force — than for its work with lasers. But in June, the company delivered a 150-kilowatt liquid laser to the Pentagon for extensive testing at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The wattage refers to the power required to run the laser, not the actual energy put on target. For comparison, the 100 kw laser currently on the Ponce in the Persian Gulf has an output of 30 kw, more than enough to destroy an enemy drone or blow a hole in a boat.