In May 2015, MBDA deployed a laser effector to acquire, track, and defeat a free-flying mini drone, the first time such technology has been used to this effect.
The mini-drone was destroyed within seconds of the start of the test. The drone maneuvered in the target area at a range of 500m, with the test proving the laser effector’s capability to combat realistic targets with precision, speed, and safety.
As noted by Aviation Week;
“The most important applications for laser weapons are counter rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) defense and protection against small unmanned air vehicles, MBDA says. For C-RAM, the laser’s most important feature is a deep magazine; against small UAVs, advantages include a low cost per kill, selective effects (from blinding the seeker to destroying the seeker and ultimately destroying the vehicle). The laser is also silent and produces no spent rounds to cause damage on the ground: this is particularly important in protecting civilian events and facilities from UAV interference.”
Commercial mini-drones represent a new type of threat that is nearly impossible to counter with conventional effectors. In 2013, a mini-drone crashed at a distance of only two meters from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In France alone, more than 60 overflights by such craft over strategically significant locations have been reported since October 2014. In the United States, there have been numerous instances of small drones penetrating restricted airspace at the White House and U.S. Capitol. To this effect, a highly precise and scalable laser weapon systems could protect major events and critical infrastructures and close a current capability gap.
At the heart of MBDA technological approach is a multi-stage, highly precise tracking procedure and laser effector that bundles numerous laser sources into a single laser beam using the principle of geometric coupling. These processes make it possible to combat small, highly agile targets reliably with a single laser effector.
MBDA has proven the functionality of its laser effectors in a range of tests. As far back as 2012, MBDA demonstrated the full operational sequence, from target acquisition to target engagement, at distances of up to 2.5 km against a dummy mortar.
In its system studies, MBDA is examining laser-armament options for waterborne platforms and ground-based mobile laser effector concepts with high power sources, 360-degree coverage and open system architecture for close and intermediate-range protection against micro-UAVs and RAM (rocket and mortar) targets.