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General Atomics is developing a powerful laser that can be fitted to an unmanned drone, Mark Thompson of Time reports.Last year the defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) gave General Atomics a $40 million contract to continue to refine, shrink and power up the High Energy Liquid Laser defence System (HELLADS).
The company hopes the laser — which would supposedly be able to take down an aircraft – will be small enough to put on a drone within five years.
Current drones, such as the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, can fly missions lasting from up to 40 hours before refueling but have to reload after firing its payload of two Hellfire missiles.
Lasers could make it so that drones could be recharged as they fly while having a steady stream of weaponry.
“It would give us an unlimited magazine,” a person close to the program told Time.
The downside of lasers is that they’re a line-of-sight weapon that must remain on their target, and they don’t work as well through haze, dust or fog.
Thompson notes that even if drone laser are realised, the primary problems of drone warfare remains:
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 … 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.