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The Army’s New Laser Weapon Can Burn Holes Right Through Drones

  • The Army is testing a prototype laser weapon system for short-range air defense.
  • The laser, DE M-SHORAD, is designed to shoot down enemy drones and artillery shells.
  • If the laser is successful, it could enter service as early as 2022.

    The U.S. Army is finally putting a laser weapon on the ground.

    The Directed Energy Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (DE M-SHORAD) system is designed to shoot down not only drones, but also incoming artillery, which has been a vexing problem on the battlefield for hundreds of years. The Army is set to field the first four lasers, mounted to armored vehicles, sometime next year.

    Over the summer, the Army tested DE M-SHORAD at Fort Bliss, home of the service’s air defense artillery branch in Texas. The system uses a 50-kilowatt laser weapon system to concentrate a beam of focused laser light at a drone, heating the surface of its skin. In turn, this can cause aerodynamic failure, blind the drone’s sensors, disable the engine, or even detonate the fuel supply or explosive payload.

    This is useful, considering drone attacks are one of the most urgent issues that the Army is currently facing. Small, fast, and capable of carrying a lethal payload, the drone threat has quickly escalated from jury-rigged hobbyist drones to military-grade weapons capable of autonomously engaging enemy troops.

    Although the U.S. Army is the most dominant ground force in the world, it was not prepared for this threat, and has scrambled to catch up. DE M-SHORAD—the first Army ground laser weapon—is an outgrowth of this effort. The service plans to mount the laser weapons on Stryker infantry armored vehicles sometime in fiscal year 2022.

    de mshorad army laser weapon

    Intended to help protect Divisions and Brigade Combat Teams from UAS and RAM threats, the RCCTO is delivering a platoon of four laser-equipped Strykers by Fiscal Year 2022. The DE M-SHORAD Combat Shoot-Off took place in Fort Sill, Oklahoma this summer.

    (Photo by U.S. Army/Jim Kendall)

    Another major capability of DE M-SHORAD is the ability to shoot down enemy artillery. For more than a century, the only way ground forces could respond to enemy rockets, mortars, and artillery shells was to dig in, move to another position, or attack the artillery directly. DE M-SHORAD, the Army claims, can now intercept those munitions in mid-flight, preventing them from landing among friendly troops.

    The Army has four DE M-SHORAD vehicles, but if the system works as planned, it will almost certainly buy dozens more. The service has nothing else like it for engaging enemy drones and artillery, and it has ten combat divisions and several separate brigades and regiments to protect. The service says this summer’s testing “demonstrated the design characteristics and performance criteria established for the program,” which is a major step toward fielding the system.


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