DARPA to Test Lasers to Counter Missile Threat

DARPA is going to start shooting missiles and rockets out of the sky with laser beams when it tests the High-Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System at White Sands Missile Range this summer. The agency has been working on improving the strength and portability of its lasers so that the HELLADS can be used to blow up incoming mortars, aircraft, missiles or anything else in the sky. Now its ready for field testing.

“The technical hurdles were daunting, but it is extremely gratifying to have produced a new type of solid-state laser with unprecedented power and beam quality for its size,” said DARPA program manager Rich Bagnell in a statement. “The HELLADS laser is now ready to be put to the test on the range against some of the toughest tactical threats our warfighters face.”

If the field-testing goes well, it could move into operational use soon after. That won’t be the end of the program though. A similar laser could someday be attached to military aircraft as well.

“The goal of the HELLADS program is to develop a 150 kilowatt (kW) laser weapon system that is ten times smaller and lighter than current lasers of similar power, enabling integration onto tactical aircraft to defend against and defeat ground threats,” the program description states.

Putting them on aircraft would give the lasers an even wider range for shooting down incoming air attacks before they get to their target. Lasers, moving at the speed of light as they do, could be used far more precisely and with less collateral damage than traditional anti-air defense systems, which is why there is interest in improving them. A variety of lasers are already used as targeting systems, but it will take even more improvement in the technology to make them both powerful enough to actually damage a missile but still light enough that the equipment can go on a jet like in the image above.