Laser-armed killer drones: Coming soon to a sky near you

Drones armed with laser weapons could be just a couple years away, says a California company behind the Predator and Reaper attack UAVs. General Atomics hopes to test a solid-state laser mounted on an Avenger drone by 2017.

The San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) has already delivered a 150-kilowatt high-energy liquid laser (HEL) to the Pentagon, for testing at the White Sands missile range in New Mexico. They are now studying a solid-state version of the weapon.

“We’re funded right now to develop a laser module compatible with the aircraft and study putting it on the Avenger,” Michael Perry, a vice president at GA-ASI, told Defense One.

Laser weapons are a good deal more complicated than Hellfire missiles, however, with dust, debris or clouds possibly interfering with the weapon. Current tests at White Sands aim to show that the GA-ASI laser can function under weather conditions faced by the drones.

“Before you spend any money on a laser, you better darn well show that you can acquire, ID, and track the objects of interest so that you could put a laser on them,” said Perry. “You have to be able to compensate for aero-optic distortion.”

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