This ATV Shoots Down Drones With Lasers
There’s a new weapon and sensor package that not only fits on the back of of an all terrain vehicle, but also shoots down drones with laser beams. Defense contractor Raytheon has put its Multi-spectral Targeting System and a portable laser into the Polaris MRZR ATV, and the result is go-anywhere surveillance vehicle that can burn drones to boot.
The weaponization of small consumer drones in the Middle East and Europe makes conventional armies nervous. Inexpensive, easily available and difficult to detect, drones have been used to drop improvised explosive devices such as hand grenades on vulnerable targets… sometimes with billion-dollar consequences. Houthi rebels in Yemen have even used suicide drones to knock out ballistic missile defense radars, paving the way for Scud missile attacks.
As a result, armies are rapidly fielding anti-drone weapons. Some of these weapons work by interfering with the radio command signal between the drone and the operator. Others work by simply burning the drone out of the sky with focused beams of light. Raytheon’s answer—the High Energy Laser Weapon System-MRZR (HELWS-MRZR)—combines a laser weapon, advanced surveillance equipment, and a Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicle.
The heart of the system is a 30-square-foot electronics package that fits on the back of a MRZR ATV. The package charges from a standard 2200-volt outlet and can run the system’s Multi-spectral Targeting System for up to four hours. MTS is the same sensor package that’s on the Predator drones and has an electro-optical/infrared sensor—basically, a night vision camera—with a laser designator and a laser illuminator. A HELWS-MRZR can provide the same standoff surveillance as a Predator.
Where HELWS really shines (or burns) is its ability to torch drones out of the sky. In the video above, the laser burns through the plastic arm holding one of the four sets of rotors on a quadcopter. The arm fails and the drone comes tumbling to the ground. The package also includes a compact weaponized laser and the electric power to fire the laser 20 to 30 times. The laser can also be hooked up to a portable generator for virtually unlimited firing.
The rapidly evolving drone threat spurred the company to build a mobile counter-drone laser with existing equipment. The company had the laser/sensor package and instead of develop a new vehicle put it on the Polaris MRZR, already in service with the U.S. Military. Ben Allison, director of Raytheon’s high energy laser product line, said in a press release, “When we saw how small we could make (the HELWS package) and we saw a clear customer need, we immediately wanted to find a very tactically relevant vehicle that could get out to forward operating bases and do its mission.”
HELWS-MRZR is a good example of military procurement and innovation done right. Raytheon didn’t go out and invent a new ground vehicle, or sensor package, or even a new laser. Instead, it combined existing versions of all three produce a new brand-new capability. “We didn’t want to go out and do a bunch of research and development,” said Allison. “We wanted to take the assets and capabilities Raytheon has today and use them to really affect this asymmetrical threat. We settled on a small system that’s hugely capable.”
Currently, the ATV laser vehicle requires the need to stop the vehicle to fire the laser. Eventually though the vehicle will be capable of firing the laser on the move. Raytheon envisions it “protecting forward-operating bases and places where convoys have to stop” — places that will attract the attention of drones.
HELWS-MRZR is set to appear at the U.S. Army’s Maneuver Fires Experiment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in December later this year. Fort Sill is the home of the U.S. Army’s Air Defense Artillery branch, which thanks to drones and expeditionary warfare is enjoying a resurgence in purpose.