I can’t get over how crazy the development of military laser technology has been lately. There’s been a real push to create a competitor for projectile weapons. For example, earlier this week I talked about the new German Phalanx-style laser weapon that kills drones and little metal balls from the sky. At one time before it was abandoned, the US Air Force was working on something called the YAL-1, which was a 747 mounted with a chemical laser that was designed to kill nuclear ICBMs from a long, long distance. I thought it was actually pretty cool, but I can understand why it was scrapped; my assumption is that they’re holding out for a more multi-burst solid state laser instead of a single-shot, highly dangerous chemical laser.
I have to say that at one point in my life I was pretty frustrated that more money goes into military laser tech than goes into scientific research and development, or even medical laser development. However, what I realized was that as this technology becomes more readily available via all of this defense money solving big problems up front, less than death uses and systems will “come out in the wash,” as an old colleague usually says. Just like anything else that we steal from military technology (cable bundling, for example), at some point laser technology from military development will make its way to the civilian and private sector development.
One such system is something that Lockheed Martin calls ADAM — Area Defense Anti-Munitions. This system is designed to be towed into a hostile area where the US has set up a Forward Operating Base, or FOB, in enemy territory. While our guys sleep and stand guard and all of those things, ADAM is watching over the area, blanketing it with radar that’s watching out for munitions coming into the area from enemy forces — mortar shells, shoulder-fired missiles, etcetera — and destroys the incoming round with a laser. Check this out, this is a prototype test of a rocket being fired at the ADAM:
Ok, that is insane. So right now, a system exists that can detect incoming enemy rockets and shells to a base. Can you imagine what would happen if you were to deploy a handful of these systems across a battlefield? That sounds like it would be a pretty awesome sight. From a press release at Lockheed Martin’s website, they’ve also tested the ADAM against drones (UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and small caliber shells:
Since August, the ADAM system has successfully engaged an unmanned aerial system target in flight at a range of approximately 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) and has destroyed four small-caliber rocket targets in simulated flight at a range of approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).
“Lockheed Martin has invested in the development of the ADAM system because of the enormous potential effectiveness of high-energy lasers,” said Doug Graham, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of advanced programs for Strategic and Missile Defense Systems. “We are committed to supporting the transition of directed energy’s revolutionary capability to the war fighter.”
Designed for short-range defense of high-value areas including forward operating bases, the ADAM system’s 10-kilowatt fiber laser is engineered to destroy targets up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away. The system precisely tracks targets in cluttered optical environments and has a tracking range of more than 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). The system has been designed to be flexible enough to operate against rockets as a standalone system and to engage unmanned aerial systems with an external radar cue. The ADAM system’s modular architecture combines commercial hardware components with the company’s proprietary software in an integrated and easy-to-operate system.
Here’s a video of the test they’re talking about, where ADAM shoots down a drone:
I for one am pretty excited to see what happens next. This could lead to some amazing advancements in light.