To say drones represent the future of warfare would be disingenuous because human beings will likely always have a role in combat operations and because drones are already an ever-present part of modern combat operations. In many ways, you could say drones represent today’s cutting-edge warfare, but the future truly belongs to lasers.
While once relegated to science fiction, a number of Pentagon-funded laser weapons now promise to reshape the ways we will go about conducting routine combat operations in the near future. High-powered lasers represent a reliable means of drone and missile defense. When coupled with advanced sensor suites and the best computers the Department of Defense (DoD) has to offer, they could potentially bring a level of protection against inbound ordnance unlike anything warfare has ever seen.
As intelligent drone swarms rapidly find their way onto the battlefield in coming years, it will prove increasingly difficult to locate and engage with these small aircraft using traditional means. Lasers, however, could serve as the primary mode of defense against drone swarms, offering rapid acquisition and engagement from platforms that have a nearly-limitless magazine capacity.
The idea of automated laser defense systems engaging swarms of flying enemy robots may sound like something out of one of the “Matrix” sequels, but many experts believe this may be the new norm for warfare in the 21st century. Raytheon is working to develop a number of “laser solutions” for the DoD and produced this short film that offers a downright terrifying depiction of what warfare in the not-so-distant future might look like. These sorts of marketing materials aren’t unusual, and it makes sense for Raytheon to display the need for lasers in a dramatic way, but what’s so unsettling about this video is the fact it may well be an accurate depiction of the battlefield in just a few years.
Those lasers in the fictional video aren’t some sort of imaginary tech they’re still cooking up. Raytheon already has laser systems capable of engaging with and downing enemy drones just like the ones shown. They’ve even already begun work on mounting one of these laser systems aboard an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter for the United States Special Operations Command.
“We provide innovative laser weapon systems with 360-degree coverage for sea, land, and air applications. Our laser technology identifies, tracks, and defends against enemy missiles, mortars, unmanned vehicles, swarming boat attacks and other ‘close-in’ defense situations. They provide precise, clean, low-cost engagements with near-infinite magazines,” Raytheon’s website states.
“Our systems generate high-power output in compact and rugged packages. The open architecture features modular, scalable designs that can be integrated on a variety of tactical platforms making them available for immediate use in combat.”