By Chuck Seegert, Ph.D.
A new laser-based system from China is capable of targeting and destroying small, slow moving drones. The system has a range of 1.2 miles and can destroy a target in about 5 seconds.
Drone-based technologies are proliferating rapidly in the military and civilian environments. In the medical space, equipment like defibrillators can be rapidly deployed in urban settings. In more remote settings, drugs and other supplies can be delivered where roads and infrastructure are poor. These applications are an offshoot of defense-based development projects where the low cost of each drone, coupled with the absence of a human operator, make them very attractive for defensive and offensive applications.
In reaction to concerns about unlicensed mapping activities and terrorist activities using drones, the China Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP) has developed a drone defense system, according to a recent story in The Guardian.
“Intercepting such drones is usually the work of snipers and helicopters, but their success rate is not as high and mistakes with accuracy can result in unwanted damage,” said Yi Jinsong, a manager with China Jiuyuan Hi-Tech Equipment Corp., in The Guardian report.
The laser system can intercept aircraft flying at about 112 mph with maximum altitude of about 1600 ft., according to The Gaurdian. A recent test performed on 30 drones led to a 100 percent success rate.
When probed, other experts were less confident of the system’s abilities.
"Whether you can shoot down a maneuvering, robust drone with a hard surface, perhaps with heat dissipation designed in, is something I'm not sure about, but it's at least plausible," said Andrew Davies, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in an email to the AP that was quoted in a report from The Independent.
One advantage that a laser system has over missiles is its relatively low cost, according to The Independent. Given these advantages, other countries like the United States are also developing laser systems, one of which is deployed on a navy ship to defend against small aircraft and drones.
The advantages of drones are becoming more apparent, especially their ability to reach sites quickly. Recently, drone-focused projects to rapidly deliver emergency medical services, as well as drugs and supplies to remote regions have been reported.
Image Credit: By Nicolas Halftermeyer, CC-BY-SA-3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons