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Doubling the Threat: Drones + Lasers?

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General Atomics

The High-Energy Liquid Laser Defense System fires from a Predator C Avenger in this artist's depiction

The unfolding revolution wrought by unmanned aerial vehicles has freed a number of military missions from the tyranny of human endurance. Plinking terrorists no longer requires an aircraft with oxygen flowing into the cockpit, parachutes or other gear necessary to ensure a pilot’s survival.

But another limit still exists.

When MQ-1 Predators are armed, they head off into the wild blue yonder with a lone pair of Hellfire missiles under their wings. It’s a double-barreled shotgun you can’t reload.

But folks at General Atomics are getting increasingly excited by the HELLADS — the High-Energy Liquid Laser Defense System. It is designed to shrink a flying laser into a package small enough to cram into an aircraft.

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“It would give us an unlimited magazine,” says one person close to the program. There’s talk that it could be fielded within five years.

In other words, an unmanned aircraft could not only give U.S. forces a so-called “persistent presence” overhead, it wouldn’t have to return to base after firing its pair of missiles for lack of additional firepower.

According to this General Atomics video, putting the laser on the company’s Predator C Avenger is a match made in heaven. The jet-powered Avenger is bigger and faster than either the company’s Predator or Reaper drones. It boasts of the “attrition tolerance” of unmanned aircraft, which is one way to put it. (These weaporn videos are becoming ever more Hollywoodesque, down to stirring music, rapid-fire editing and apparently a corps of actors ready to spout lines like: “Target destroyed.”)

Last year, General Atomics landed a $40 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to continue to refine, shrink and power up HELLADS. Its 150-kW solid-state power would supposedly be capable of downing aircraft.

But lasers — even tiny ones — have bad as well as good points. Downside: they’re line-of-sight weapons, so they’re not like fire-and-forget missiles that home in on the heat or radar return generated by a target. And they don’t work so well through haze, dust or the fog of war. Upside: they travel at the speed of light, so jinking to avoid being hit (assuming the target is an aircraft) really isn’t an option.

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There’s another challenge as well: laser weapons — death rays, if you prefer — have always been just out of reach. The joke is that they’re only five years into the future — and always will be. Whether or not this latest version turns out any different remains an open question.

There are also bigger issues associated with such weaponry. Some legal scholars, and military officers, assert that drone killings are too easy to order, are illegal, shouldn’t be conducted in secret by the CIA and, at the end of the day, generate a dozen terrorists for every one that’s killed.

All that may be true, but it also misses a key element of having drones orbit silently overhead, able to blast the enemy repeatedly with their laser weapons. The real problem, of course, isn’t a lack of Hellfire missiles. The challenge is knowing where to aim them. Swapping Hellfires for lasers won’t change that.

MORE: This Drone Notion Is Starting to Get Serious

13 comments
yonge78
yonge78

I am not denying that few known or unknown marked men have been assassinated successfully. However in doing so America has become number one target for these same terrorists. Let's just see what are the implications. It took some ten years to track, locate and assassinate just one terrorist, https://twitter.com/primeblog/status/355884734825508864

theamericanoverkill
theamericanoverkill

The only reason the American people tolerate this technology is that most of them have been dumbed down and/or brainwashed by the mounds of propaganda. Alot of money will be made off these killers for a few hotshot Egos in suits, BUT there is Absolutely NO genius behind this, but it shows the most degrading aspect that America is becoming and will be remembered for.  I don't even know this country anymore. It was Constitutional Republic, but you would not know this. In just Eleven years, based on lies, our nation has been looted and trashed. The so-called "enemy" is apparently the American people, since drones are already flying overhead. The external so-called enemies were manufactured by the Corporate-State, which has profited handsomely.

Madara04
Madara04

I love the fact no one is talking about what if we lose one over a hostile country. We just pass the technology to our enemies. We lost a couple of them over Iran. Plus, do we really want to escalate a laser arm race considering we have a huge deficit that needs to be reduced with spending cuts?

Baileys789
Baileys789

As I understand it, drone targets are individuals who manufacture and place IED's for our troops' destruction or ones who authorize them, among other  sinister activities. Drones avoid endangering a pilot's life. Laser equipped drones preclude to a great extent collateral damage. Their being illegal is mainly semantics.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@Baileys789 You know they're not "precision." More than 2,500 people have been killed by Obama’s drones, many of them civilians and bystanders, including American citizens, irrespective of the absence of any “imminent threat” to the United States.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

July 22, 2010  (UPI) -- U.S. defense giant Raytheon Missile Systems has unveiled a laser weapon capable of shooting unmanned aerial vehicles from a range of just less than 2 miles. Mounted on a U.S. warship's missile defense system, the laser shotdown four drones in secret tests off California in May, Raytheon touted in a statement this week.

elcidharth
elcidharth

I am glad that TIME is displaying some journalistic ideals over US Drone syndrome. We see the same desire, historically speaking, to make stronger armaments, larger armed forces and bigger budgets to satisfy the need to protect oneself.

Killing others is part of the war and forgiven under the circumstances where clearly defined objectives are part of the mission.

WWII had such objective against rising fascists of European theater and rising Japanese Imperial power. People gladly consented to anything and everything to promote these foreign wars, including offering their youth.

Is Barack Obama's war on terror similarly defined? I am afraid not. As it is highly costly, in terms of dollars invested and equally ridiculous on the moral grounds.

I am not denying that few known or unknown marked men have been assassinated successfully. However in doing so America has become number one target for these same terrorists. Let's just see what are the implications. It took some ten years to track, locate and assassinate just one terrorist, Osama bin-Laden.

With Drones we have few more but not all. Terrorists are becoming invisible and spreading all over the creation appearing in different shapes, sizes and younger, most talented, trained local leaderships.

Modern science cannot keep pace with increasing anti-Americanism, no matter how many latest gadgets, gizmos and deadly Drones are put in active service.

Stop Drone War.

...and I am Sid Harth@mysistermarilynmonroe.org

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@elcidharth On the Internet, there is a dictum known as "Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies," coined in 1990 by a man named Mike Godwin. This law holds that "as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

elcidharth
elcidharth

@Don_Bacon @elcidharth I am familiar with it. Since the good old days of Internet, I kept a vigil, sort of, as I was too timid to expose myself. Newsgroups were created and hell broke loose.

I was in Cleveland, then and had to find a free access. There was one and that was my downfall.

Here is what I have for you. Slightly dated but appropriate for readers.

From: Mike Godwin <mnemonic`-at-`eff.org>
Subject: Godwin's Law
Date: Thu, 12 Jan 1995 13:39:39 -0500 (EST)

Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies [a.k.a the Sexton-Godwin Law]:
 As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison
 involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
[Usenet Message-ID: <1991Aug18.215029.19421@eff.org>, 18 Aug 1991;
possibly posted in this form as early as 1990 on The WELL.]

Morgan's Corollary:
 As soon as such a comparison occurs, someone will start a
 Nazi-discussion spinoff thread on alt.censorship.

The Sircar/Case Corollary:
 If the USENET discussion touches on homosexuality or Heinlein, Nazis or 
 Hitler are mentioned within three days.
[This has been credited to both Sircar and Case, whose full names no one 
appears to recall.]

Van der Leun's Corollary:
 As global connectivity improves, the probability of actual Nazis being 
 on the net approaches one.
[Long proven quite true.]

Miller's Paradox:
 As a network evolves, the number of Nazi comparisons not forestalled by 
 citation to Godwin's Law converges to zero.

Quirk's Exception: 
 Intentional invocation of Godwin's Law is ineffectual.

Bentsen's [highly fallacious] Defense:
 Not this time. I know Mike Godwin. Mike Godwin is a friend of mine.
 You're no Mike Godwin.
[Named for Senator Lloyd Bentsen's "You're no Jack Kennedy" line from the 
1988 vice-presidential debates.  A.k.a. Cooley's Defense, after the 
original poster.]

[Gordon's Restatement of] Newman's Corollary:
 Libertarianism (pro, con, and internal faction fights) is *the*
 primordial netnews discussion topic.  Anytime the debate shifts
 somewhere else, it must eventually return to this fuel source.

**********

Cf. the related but more general Wilcox-McCandlish Law 
of Online Discourse Evolution (and Corollaries):
http://www.eff.org/Net_culture/Folklore/Humor/wilcox-mccandlish.law

Cf. also Benford's Law of Controvery:
 Passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information
 available.
- Gregory Benford, 1980.
I wrote hundreds of comments on Nazi movement. Alas, all vanished.
...and I am Sid Harth@elcidharth.com 

j.villain1
j.villain1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

The US is taking a very short sighted and ignorant view to this. If it is OK for the US to go around murdering people in other countries in  violation of international law then  every other country will assume that it is OK to also murder Americans. When you cheapen death you just create more of it. The goal should be to reduce it. 

Drones will be cheap and readily available soon. Maybe not military versions but it won't take a rouge state or reasonably well funded terrorist group long to figure how how to make civilian versions into killing machines. When that happens the US is going to find that all the people they thought they could murder willy nilly with impunity from the sky are going to be targeting Americans.

The actions of the US violate international law and Americans will be held responsible for making sure their government stops. If not it will eventually be the US vs the entire world.

RickFitzpatrick
RickFitzpatrick like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

This re-defines the word absurd.  Every single day, these scumbag drone manufacturers and this regime of depraved children murdering psychopaths take us one more step toward Orwellian totalitarianism in the name of profits for the Oligarchy. And now, conspiracy theory notwithstanding, lacking proof of cause in an explosion in Indiana that leveled 3 homes and damaged 100 more, and killed two american citizens, it appears they are experimenting with domestic hellfire missile trials to see how much the American public will take before they revolt.  Unfortunately, given the pathetic level of stupidity and apathy in this country, the USG may just succeed in destroying every last shred of the Founders dream. However, with over 3 million guns and counting...I hope not.  I submit though, it's going to take the murder of a whole family or even town, that is documented for the world to see before this nation wakes up to the death and destruction this rancid government reaps on the world daily.  So don't give me that nationalistic 'merican exceptionalism crap.  The only thing were exceptional at now is murder and burying our head in the sand. And it makes me ashamed..if not really..really..pissed off.

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

@RickFitzpatrick I appreciate the above opinion for what I see it as, an open criticism of the evolution of weapons and the lunacy of using them. But isn't something escaping you?  Would you (back in the 12th century) have said the same thing about the newfangled invention and use of firearms by the Chinese? There is no way short of death of stopping human invention and the ego that feeds it. As we speak, scientists are conjuring up new nightmares for us to live with. If the Americans don't do it first, which they have proved over and over again that they can, some other country eventually will. It seems that the focus should be on exactly WHAT is at stake, WHEN, HOW and WHERE these "guns" should be deployed and WHY and at WHO they are being shot. Yes, yes, yes. The colonizers of America got the English off their backs because of them (guns) and we're all buddy-buddy now, aren't we?) I agree with you that the MISUSE of weapons should be stopped by ALL people, not just  Americans. And just how would international courts of law help in the case of one country invading the territory of another? After it's all over? Well, we all know the answer to that one, don't we? History is written by the victorious, truth, lies or both. I guess that this whole question would have to be resolved by mankind evolving beyond war, violence, racism and all the rest of this primitive bullfighting, boxing and the like. Don't hold your breath waiting. DOING is better. How do you get along with the people you deal with?

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