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The laser cannon that kills drones

September 3rd, 2015 at 10:29 AM

Silent and invisible, Boeing’s new laser cannon slays enemy drones by taking them down in under a minute.

The Compact Laser Weapons System (CLWS) can track down an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and eliminate a threat.

Boeing just released a video of its Compact Laser Weapons System demonstration. In August, the laser took part in ultra cool Exercise Black Dart that focuses on cutting-edge tech to tackle hostile drones. The CLWS focused on the target drone’s tail for 10 to 15 seconds, set it on fire, and destroyed it.

In the video, Boeing engineer Isaac Neal describes it as “a welding torch being put on target but from many hundreds of meters away. If you were on the receiving end of laser energy, you’d have no idea where it was coming from or what was even happening.”

How does it work?

The CLWS is a two-kilowatt laser that focuses a directed energy beam at a target. It’s so precise it can target a specific location on a drone.

The laser beam is silent and invisible. The system can identify and track air and ground targets as they are moving using a mid-wave infrared sensor and has a range of about 40 kilometers.

In the video, it takes the laser about 15 seconds to destroy a drone.

The laser is controlled with an Xbox 360–like controller connected to a laptop equipped with the targeting software. It takes just two warfighters to move the laser around the battle space and deliver focused firepower. The laser can be moved in a few boxes and set up within a few minutes.

Laser weapons provide another two key advantages — they have unlimited magazines provided there is power and the cost for each shot tends to be a lot lower.

Boeing has several laser systems underway from lasers like the CLWS that specifically target drones through lasers that target other threats like small fast attack boats, mortars, and rockets.

The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) is Boeing’s laser mounted on a truck. It can destroy mortars while they are in mid-flight. Boeing demonstrated this laser last year – the CLWS is smaller and more portable.

Boeing expects the laser system to be ready for sale in the next year or two.

How would it be used?

The CLWS could be used to defeat drone threats in war zones, but also in the U.S. to protect and defend sensitive areas.

Drone use in the U.S. has proliferated from hobbyists to companies like Amazon.

Places like airports and government buildings continue to be targeted by drones. For example, in May this year a man was arrested for flying a drone at the White House.

Security experts are concerned that a drone could carry threats like biological or chemical weapons.

The CLWS could also be used to protect sensitive areas from the prying, spying eyes of drones.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at or follow her on Twitter@Allison_Barrie.

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