With drones becoming more prevalent on the battlefield, the relevance of anti-drone munitions has become more apparent—and a must.
Japan recently concluded the biennial Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) 2023 exhibition in Chiba Prefecture, Tokyo.
Onlookers at the expo caught sight of the two high-energy laser weapon prototypes showcased by two Japanese defense firms. According to reports, these laser systems are specifically designed to take down sophisticated hostile unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which have become more prominent in recent years.
Taking notes from the lessons in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and Tokyo’s very own budding tension with China has urged Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries to develop an anti-drone system capable of defending the island country and its disputed islands against potential swarm attacks by enemy UAVs.
Zaps Within Seconds
Mitsubishi displayed its 10-kilowatt fiber laser, reportedly capable of striking down unmanned drones up to 1.2 kilometers (0.7 miles) away within two to three seconds.
This laser system prototype has been field tested for the past two years, repeatedly evaluating its laser energy-based counter-unmanned aircraft system (C-UAS). It also has been fitted onto ground vehicles for mobility, noting that the system can serve not only the Ground Self-Defense Force but also the land bases of the Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces.
“Any Self-Defense Force can use it from the ground as long as it is intended to shoot down flying objects,” a Mitsubishi official said, as quoted by The Diplomat.
Furthermore, Mitsubishi unveiled its plans to deliver this laser system prototype to the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) later this year.
Besides drones, Mitsubishi’s anti-drone munition appears to be unsuitable for intercepting missiles—yet. A company official explained that while they are yet to conduct high-level research, there’s a great possibility that the laser’s current energy release can be cranked high enough to take down missile threats.
In November 2021, Mitsubishi signed an 825 million yen-worth ($6.21 million) contract to develop “a research prototype of a vehicle-mounted high-power laser demonstration device.”
A Mightier, More Potent Laser System
Kawasaki, on the other hand, showcased a more powerful 100-kilowatt anti-drone system.
Unlike Mitsubishi’s design, Kawasaki’s prototype had to be mounted on a large trailer-type vehicle as the high voltage would require more power supply and cooling water circulating system.
The prototype displayed by the company, however, only bears a 2-kilowatt laser power.
According to its officials, this anti-drone laser system “can eliminate UAV targets up to a range of several hundred meters,” The Diplomat reported. Moreover, explaining that both of Kawasaki’s variants “use the same 1 micrometer (1/1,000,000 of a meter) band fiber laser.”
Basically capable of detecting hostile drones using an infrared camera and hunt-and-kill using a one-micrometer band fiber laser.
Kawasaki delivered a prototype of the powerful laser system to ATLA in February and is slated to undergo evaluation tests starting this month.
Anti-Drones Systems As Additional Air Defense
With sophisticated drones come equally complex anti-drone systems, and as the former continues to evolve, solutions to resist the latter have become more evident and in demand.
The United States, for one, has long recognized the evolving threat of lethal drones, thus, has been proactive in seeking a reliable and potent C-UAS system.
Raytheon Technologies recently developed a Mobile, Low, slow, small unmanned aircraft system Integrated Defeat System, or M-LIDS, for the US Army. It has been in constant testing and evaluation since its inception in the early 2020s and will soon be fielded not just here in the states but might also be deployed to allied regions enduring drone assaults from adversaries in the past decade, including Middle East partners.
The M-LIDS is a type of C-UAS that uses the Ku-band Radio Frequency Sensor and Raytheon’s Cayote family of effectors on top of an electronic warfare system. The Army has not disclosed much regarding the program other than its plans to convert the two-vehicle system into a single-ride configuration, with field tests taking place this year before it would consider importation.
Another C-UAS system developed was the High Energy Laser Weapon Systems (HELWS), also built by Raytheon. A laser system mounted on a military-grade dune buggy, Polaris MRZR.
Moreover, Raytheon had proven that the system could be paired with the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) in a field test conducted in March last year.
In a press release, the HELWS received automated target cueing and expanded access to a full spectrum of electro-optical/infrared sensors by integrating NASAMS Fire Distribution Center, increasing its capability to track, identify, and quickly take down drones at tactically relevant distances.
For further reading, check out the review military tech journalist Kelsey D. Atherton wrote last October when he personally fired the HELWS anti-drone laser himself in the high desert of New Mexico.