Updated 2:40 p.m. with details on how the laser damaged the UAV and on the Laser Avenger's targeting system.
Boeing is seeing a glimmer of progress in its work toward fielding laser weapons.
The defense industry giant on Monday said tests of its Laser Avenger system in December marked "the first time a combat vehicle has used a laser to shoot down a UAV," or unmanned aerial vehicle. In the testing, the Humvee-mounted Laser Avenger located and tracked three small UAVs in flight over the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and knocked one of the drone aircraft out of the sky.
Boeing didn't go into much detail about the shoot-down. In response to a query by CNET News, it did say this much about the strike by the the kilowatt-class laser: "A hole was burned in a critical flight control element of the UAV, rendering the aircraft unflyable."
While decades of Hollywood imagery may conjure up a vision of a target disintegrating in a sparkle of light, the actual workings of the laser beam are probably more prosaic. For instance, the beam from Boeing's much, much larger Airborne Laser, which is intended to disable long-range missiles in flight, uses heat to create a weak spot on the skin of the missile, causing it to rupture in flight. Boeing hopes to conduct the first aerial shoot-down test with the much-delayed 747-based Airborne Laser later this year.
In tests in 2007, the Laser Avenger "neutralized" improvised explosive devices (IEDs) like those that have been a deadly threat in Iraq, along with other unexploded munitions. … Read more