Militaries Are Rushing To Get Anti-Drone Lasers Operational

Flying drones have been a part of modern warfare for a good few decades now. Initially, most of these drones were built by traditional military contractors and were primarily used by the world’s best-funded militaries. However, in recent conflicts in Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere have changed all that. Small commercial drones and compact militarized models have become key tools on the battlefield, for offense, defence, and reconnaissance.

With so many of these tiny craft buzzing around, militaries are scrambling for practical ways to shoot them down. Lasers might be just the ticket to do exactly that.

Why Lasers?

The Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser 2.0, or MEHEL 2.0, is a US-built anti-drone laser system that has been trialed on Stryker combat vehicles. It can be seen here as the tan unit fitted on top of the vehicle. Credit: US Army, public domain

Shooting down drones, even the basic plasticky ones you get at Walmart, is a frustrating exercise. They’re tiny, and thus surprisingly difficult to see. They can also be difficult to detect, even if their radio emissions do help track them down.

The big problem for modern militaries, though, is that drones are often incredibly cheap. It’s simply not practical to fire a $10,000 or $50,000 missile to shoot down a drone worth a tenth of the price. Bullets are cheaper, but without guidance, they’re more difficult to get on target. The ones that miss tend to fall back to Earth, injuring people in the process. Plenty of them will miss, too, because those tiny drones are both very maneuverable, and again, very hard to track.

In many ways, lasers offer the perfect solution to this problem. The laser destroys targets by melting or incinerating drones with its powerful beam. There is no ammo involved, so many shots can be fired as long as the laser has power and doesn’t overheat. There are no shells flying through the air that will continue on to cause collateral damage, either. Of course, a laser weapon still requires a tracking system to aim at a target. However, unlike a guided missile, that expensive tracking system isn’t destroyed in an explosion when taking out a target.

Naturally, the reality of anti-drone laser technology will be nothing like what you might have seen in the movies. Star Wars-style pulses of light and pew pew sounds simply don’t reflect reality. Instead, laser weapons are more likely to be silent, barring the whirr of any cooling equipment, and many will likely rely on infrared laser technology which is invisible to the human eye.

The MEHEL 2.0 system has racked up many successful drone kills in testing. Credit: US Army, public domain

Defence contractor Raytheon has recently announced it will invest in a new European hub to develop laser weaponry. Its primary goal will be to develop laser weapons to take out small drones, and will work on testing and fielding such hardware for military applications. These lasers would likely be intended for use on military vehicles, which can both house and carry the weapon system while providing it with the necessary power to fire.

Other countries are rushing to field their own systems, too. Russia claims to have used an anti-drone laser with 5 km range in Ukraine in May this year. Meanwhile, French company CILAS is citing success with a system that relies on radar or camera tracking, and uses a laser under 10 kW power to destroy small drones. China has developed a system using a fiber laser operating in the tens of kilowatts range, while Lockheed Martin also has a similar system in development, with an eye to defending against drone swarms. The US Army’s own MEHEL 2.0 laser testbed has also shown much success at engaging drones in testing.

Defensive laser weapons have applications for land, sea, and air vehicles. Being able to shoot down incoming enemy drones or munitions can have a major effect on a unit’s ability to operate in or around a contested battleground. Credit: US Navy, public domain

It comes at a time that other laser weapon systems are also coming to fruition. The US Air Force has long pursued lasers as a potential way to defend aircraft from incoming missiles. Earlier this year, the Air Force received prototype lasers from Lockheed Martin designed for this very purpose, operating in the 60 kW range. The hope is that these high-performance lasers, mounted in pods carried by aircraft, could shoot down incoming missiles before they get close enough to do any real harm.

Unlike anti-missile lasers for fighter jets, those targeting small drones will likely be somewhat more achievable to field in the near term. They likely won’t need to be as powerful, as often they’ll be used to destroy craft made out of plastics and composites rather than advanced aerospace metal alloys. They’ll also operate at far shorter ranges. An incoming air-to-air missile moves at many times the speed of sound, so tracking and destroying it at long range is key. Small drones move at maybe a few hundred kilometers per hour at best, so it’s far more practical to deal with them at closer range.

As the tragic warfare this year has shown, even cheap, tiny drones are changing the face of the battlefield. Laser weapons seem the best way for militaries to counter this threat. All that’s left to do is develop and field them in real numbers, and the metagame of modern warfare will shift once again.

121 thoughts on “Militaries Are Rushing To Get Anti-Drone Lasers Operational

      1. Radar is light. However I do agree that something shiny in one part of the spectrum may or may not be in others. Specifically to this article, I guess infrared would be the more important area to reflect.

    1. I think a layer of carbon foam on the underside of a drone would be cheap and easy to make, weigh close to nothing, and make it just about impervious to lasers. I’m surprised there isn’t more focus on using microwave energy weapons, since that would be more difficult to shield.

    2. Or simply an hyperbolic mirror so it’ll always shoot back the same power to the laser source no matter how far. Ideally, such drone could also fall as fast as possible into the laser source to destroy it. It just has to survive long enough to reach it. This is possible since a 99.99% mirror is in amateur budget price, so a 10kW laser source at 1m would only give 100W at 10m (inverse square law), and the mirror would only absorb 0.01W of heat at that distance. Even at 1m, it’s only 1W. Not sure the laser enclosure would support the 9.999kW of reflected power then.

      1. Also, it’s ironic that such drone wouldn’t require any offensive material here, since you are providing the gun to shoot yourself in the feet (if the drone has a servo on its mirror, you can direct it the way you want to hit whatever target you desire). Let’s see how much fun this will be to counter.

        1. Cubic cut corner reflectors, like you see on bicycles. Those do throw a lot of light back at the source, albeit in a rather unfocused way. Doubtful the return energy would seriously damage the equipment, but it would behoove the operators to have eye protection.

      2. Inverse square applies to things that fan out omnidirectionally, whereas laser energy is highly collimated. There is some intrinsic beam spreading, there’s diffusion from particulates, but those aren’t going to attenuate anything near to inverse square.

      3. You may want to look up the power ratings of your 99.99% mirror. You’ll find a lot of coatings will rapid degrade at surprisingly low continuous (and different pulsed) power levels.

        These sorts of high powered lasers are also focused for distance, so simple retroreflective schemes would not result in some sort of saturday morning cartoon deadly beam reflection.

        1. The reflection of a perfectly focused beam will just spread out to fill the lens on the way back and be refocused onto the laser source. Optical isolators aren’t perfect either and not easy for high power.

      4. The literal point of using a LASER and not a spotlight for this is that LASER energy doesn’t follow the inverse square law. 10kW at 1m is 10kW at 10m. There is actually a small amount of divergence which will reduce the usable power over distance, but it’s not an inverse square ratio.

      5. Worth noting that inverse square law does not apply to laser light which is a coherent beam and does not spread out like from other sources. A hyperbolic mirror would be hard to align with the laser source and besides would return a divergent beam with insignificant power.

        1. To be pedantic, the inverse square law happens because the solid angle of light emmission is covering the whole sphere. A laser isn’t perfect, it’s coherent up to its Rayleigh range and then starts to diverge like any other point source, in S/R² (solid angle) law. Hopefully, else you could dig a hole though the Earth with a 10kW laser from part to part. As for an hyperbolic mirror, the idea is to survive the laser shot and maybe blinding the enemy for some time, not to send back the energy precisely where it comes from (if you want to do so, you’d need a retroreflector). However, you might want to use the free energy to make damage to the enemy, and in that case, it might be worth having the hyperbolic mirror design for a specific focus distance, make your drone go at that distance, and orientate your mirror in the direction of the target of choice. You’ll then wait for the laser shot.

  1. this article makes me think of how some technological advances are so tremendous that we think of them as absolute, when they aren’t. for example, in the early 00s i would have told you that an advantage of LEDs over incandescent bulbs is that they don’t make heat. but now that i have LED bulbs all over my house, i know, they *do* make heat! not nearly as much, but it’s not remotely zero and it’s in fact a big problem in some applications.

    so it seems like a laser would have a lot more number of shots available than a gun, and a lot lower cost, but it’s still going to be a consideration. how many gallons of fuel going into the diesel generator? how many hours of operation between maintenance cycles? that sort of thing. i’m sure it’s a huge improvement for this sort of application but it’s still not infinite by any stretch, and when things scale up the downsides can be rather surprising.

    and the speed of light is a huge improvement over a bullet travelling some small multiple of the speed of sound. but it’s still not infinite…it’ll take a really fast drone and a very long range before you start worrying too much about “leading the target” but it is still eventually going to pop up as this technology evolves.

    anyways, i was thinking about how they don’t have the problem of sending shrapnel into the backstop every time they miss the target, and i’m not sure that’s true either. obviously, if the path isn’t upward, it can have collateral damage (i.e., if you are on a mountaintop shooting down onto drones over a city). but i wonder if the laser is powerful enough to pose a hazard to higher altitude airplanes or even orbiting satellites.

    fun to think about

    1. Laser passing through the entire atmosphere with all that dispersal and absorption so it is still energy dense enough to actually permanently harm a satellite would be rather surprising, at least for laser that are meant to kill drones. You don’t use an elephant gun on a fly, a bulkier unit with excess power consumption doesn’t give you any benifit – might even make it worse at its primary function of shooting down ‘toys’ too!

      Maybe enough to dazzle a satellite’s optical systems with such a laser but actual harm seems unlikely, as the satellite itself likely gets a lovely sunrise or two,three,four (etc) every day down its peepers, so will be engineered to take that – and the sun aught to be similar if not greater magnitude than a drone killer once its passed through the atmosphere.

      I’d say the odds of accidentally hitting a satellite border on winning the lottery level of rare too – space is pretty damn big, and despite the troubles in orbital navigation still very much more empty than full. Though if you have a war on enough to want to shoot down drones there may well be an even greater concentration of near Earth disposable ‘cubesat’ style spy gear overhead…

      Has to be said I’m doubtful a laser can really kill a model RC type drone effectively – sustained time on target lasing will melt/ignite it eventually and might just cut or cook the electronics, but most of these systems seem to be all about a high power pulse and with how little of the small RC flying toys are actually mission critical you either need to be able to put a damn big hole in it – which means a massive increase in power required as the spot size needs to get much bigger with sufficient intensity or pulse rapidly until you do hit something important, at which point the laser cooling likely becomes a limiting factor.

      The conventional aircraft style RC toy are very much empty aerofoil and fuselage and multi rotors can often fly even with large chunks of the prop missing, in the case of ‘big’ ones even with a motor or two down – the only instant kill areas would be the ‘brains’ and battery (and even then if its got multiple battery it might be burning but its got a fair bit of flight time off the other battery or before the fire kills it). You are talking hitting a fast moving tiny spot or two inside the already pretty small overall target.

      Ironically it would be easier to kill the armed and dangerous type of drone and missile – they are larger so easier to detect, usually not as agile and maybe not even as fast. All giving you a hope of taking the shot and then they are full of much more stuff that goes bang or burns… Of course for that easier to kill nature they pack a wallop and can fly substantially longer…

      1. Don’t forget also that sats are moving at 7.5 to 10 km/s. A beam targeted at a drone near earths surface is going to be nearly stationary and the sattelite is going to pass through it so fast it’s unlikely to even notice. Even a 1 meter aperture camera is going to pass through the beam in 0.13ms. I doubt that’s long enough to do much damage.

        1. As the lasers pulse duration is likely very short probably into being measured in femtosecond that won’t matter much it won’t have moved perceptibly for the entire time the stray laser is active.

      2. “Laser passing through the entire atmosphere with all that dispersal and absorption so it is still energy dense enough to actually permanently harm a satellite would be rather surprising”

        Indeed, over a decade ago when it was first field-tested, it was surprising to many people!

        1. In this context actually causing harm that far away would be rather astonishing, testing the anti-satellite by design laser and showing it sort of works is entirely different thing. This would be like finding your CD player or office laser pointer cuts through 1/4″ steel sheets…

          Which really is the sort of comparison being made here as the anti hobby scale drone laser needs to be many things, and all of them rather preclude it being a tightly confined and powerful enough beam to still be lethal at 100x or more the expected engagement range and to targets that are almost certainly orders of magnitude harder to hurt by laser.

  2. A laser pod on a fighter jet could “blind” an incoming missile guided by on board Optics (camera, infrared sensor,, maybe even radar guided) if detected early enough.

    1. These already exist, see AN/AAQ-24. They are quickly proliferating across military aircraft, and if I remember correctly they are a requirement on the US’s current future fighter programs.

  3. This won’t work for a very simple reason. Lasers, and their power requirements, are orders of magnitude more expensive than drones and the power requirements to maintain flight and have smallish chemically explosive payloads.

    Also, the manufacturing base required to make drones is infinitely smaller and cheaper than the manufacturing base required to pump out lasers and their associated power sources.

    Furthermore, drone swarms and their associated chemical explosives are a lot lighter and easier to transport than lasers and their associated power sources. They’re easier to get onto the battlefield and can easily be fielded basically anywhere.

    The problem with drones is not their military application. The problem is that they are cheap. The US military is best thought of as a money laundering operation that transforms tax payer money into mansions in Virginia that fights and maintains empire as a secondary function. Drones are cheap and don’t do the first bit very well.

    If I can produce 1000 drones for the cost of 1 laser anti-drone battery, and it only takes 100 drones in a swarm to swamp the capacitors on the laser or the targeting computer, than the drone wins. I would be willing to bet that those numbers are actually probably lower than reality, too.

    1. Horde mode goes a long way its true, kept NATO up at night when the USSR might swarm over the fields. But what happens when you pick that fight and launch your years worth of drones and only manage to kill and damage a small amount – which is all you can really manage as you can’t pack real devastation into so small and cheap a package.

      Imaging dropping a few thousand frag grenades over a building – you made a mess, covered the outer shell in pockmarks, busted some windows, started a fire or two etc. Now drop 1/2 that total mass of explosive in a single concentrated bomb the building is likely entirely destroyed – sometimes no matter the quantity of gnats they just can’t do the job…

      As soon as you scale up to have the killing power to kill all the targets it costs more, which is why there is a whole horde of combined arms and different options available – want to kill a ground target at longer range you have artillery – pretty cheap but potential vulnerable to counter battery, helicopter or ground attack aircraft – could be cheaper still if the target is killable with low caliber gun rounds, but likely more expensive as fuel, airframe time and the little missiles are more expensive than an shell or rather primitive artillery rocket and the asset at risk are very much more expensive than the artillery. Up to various sizes of larger missile, all of which are going to be stupendously expensive per shot. Then finally don’t forget the ‘cheapest’ option of them all send some poor grunts with a gun, might be rather slower but humans on the ground can kill just about any target without a great deal of expensive equipment, especially if you don’t put value on their lives…

      Also the laser battery has the great advantage that the materials if not the whole system can be salvaged or repaired by the nation that built it quite easily (if they haven’t gone and scrapped the production line, jigs etc in the usual cost cutting as its peace time BS), but not easily at all for the nation that may just have captured one or two if they do manage to horde through enough. Where that horde of drones are expected to be single use and go and shed their nearly worthless materials all over the ground.

    2. Interesting point but the numbers are more complex than that.

      100 drones versus one armored vehicle with a laser? Sure, that’s probably gonna overwhelm it.

      100 drones versus 10 armored vehicles in a squad? Suddenly the numbers aren’t nearly as bad.

      Additionally, fielding 100 drones in a cohesive swarm is a LONG way from the current status quo. Currently, it’s small handfuls of quadcopters dropping muntions, and lasers are still a great way to defend against that.

      1. Pleased have a Look at the Chinese’s capabilities.
        They devellpped an already testet more than 3000 drones at once.
        Think its Not Just to have fancy light Shows in the night Sky.

    1. And with microwaves, you don’t have to cook the fuselage until it melts or ignites. You just need to put enough wattage into the drone’s receive antennae to cook a couple of MOSFETs and the little bugger’s got no more GPS and it’s on its own.

  4. I used to work at a place that made industrial CO2 pulse lasers. Without the acoustic shielding, the laser sounded like someone beating on an oil drum with a hammer, 25 times per second. Definitely not silent. Even with the acoustic shielding, it was still not quiet.

      1. I worked on a multi-megawatt pulsed excimer laser system for a while. Ours were nowhere nearly this loud, but the sound we could hear came from the current conductors moving around during the capacitive discharges.

      2. My guess is either magnetic fields distorting components, or capacitors acting like condenser microphones in reverse. At least for the sounds at the same frequency as the laser pulses. Plus background noise from turbomacinery that circulates the gas, and the pumps and compressors in the cooling system.

        1. The gas circulation was 4 or 5 muffin fans inside the laser cavity. There was a liquid to gas heat exchanger on one side of the fan rack for cooling. The cavity was a stainless steel (probably 2mm thick) flanged tray, that was a meter or meter and a half long. The tray was probably 30cm tall and 30cm wide. There were two large parallel copper bar shaped electrodes, with pre-ionizer spikes and capacitors running the length of the electrodes on either side. Cooling water circulated through the heat exchanger in the cavity and through the HV power supply. The top of the laser cavity was a piece of clear plastic, about a cm thick. The capacitor and thyraton sat on top of the plastic sheet. The outside case looked kind of like one of those car top luggage carriers.

          The water chiller made some noise but the gas circulation fans were pretty well inaudible.

      3. I am pretty sure it was from the laser cavity itself. It was a 5 Joule optical power machine that used a thyratron tube to switch about 15KAmps. The output pulse was about 1uS long.

    1. Pretty inefficient way to kill a human imo. A gun is much lighter and cheaper and kills faster. I guess a laser would be good at maiming targets from a long distance (too far for bullets). But using it that way intentionally would likely be a violation of the Geneva convention.

  5. In 1981 I got a tour of a facility that was developing concept laser weapons for the air force, and while smaller and cheaper implementations might be possible today I doubt anything that could be fielded would be more powerful or accurate than that system. It used a megawatt class laser and water-cooled guidance mirrors that had to be ground while the water channels were pressurized. They had an impressive model airplane shop to make experimental targets, which at the time were not autonomous but were small drone class as aircraft. The researchers showed us film of it in operation and explained that the most successful test was the least dramatic, because it killed the aircraft by cutting the control cables — melting the craft is simply not feasible at range. The most dramatic kaboom was the least practical in practice because they got it by leaving the fuel tank mostly empty so that fuel wouldn’t suck the heat away as they drilled a hole in the thin-walled tank and ignited the vapor inside. Based on that experience, even though it was 40 years ago I wouldn’t get too excited about lasers being practical for this today.

    1. Given how light the quadcopters this type of defense is pitted against have to be it’d probably be sufficient to “nick” one of the arms/props/wiring to down it. Now the larger quads that are gas powered up to larger unmanned aircraft would probably be a bit more resilient to lasers but this article specifically talks about their much smaller, more maneuverable cousins.

        1. depends on the foil, but probably not much. Something that carbonizes into a carbon-air foam would probably work very well (bread toast probably works in a pinch) as the laser just ablates the outer layer but won’t penetrate any further and little heat is likely to make it through. Such a carbon foam would probably be very light too.

      1. I think you’d be rather surprised just how durable a multi-rotor can be. They can fly with large portions of a rotor missing, ones with more than 4 motors can loose motors or props entirely and not care (technically some design could be down to just two motor and still entirely controllable as long as its the right pair of motor left), the arms are generally massively overspec for the aerodynamic loading – they are thick and sturdy enough to survive the inevitable crash landings.

        The only really sure fire kill spots would be the battery, esc and flight controller. Damn if they are not a very small target in the overall volume of a multirotor.

        It gets even worse when you think of conventional RC aircraft at least in volume of target to mission critical hardware – wings with practically nothing important in ’em as most RC planes can fly (with skill or self leveling easy flight characteristic design) even with a servo wire or control surface lost, even breaking the spar isn’t going to kill it in most cases as the wing loading are so low when not flying really aggressively (or crashing), and with the shear power of brushless motors most can fly without large portions of their wings attached! The fuselage is mostly empty space as well just there to hold the aerodynamic surfaces far enough apart for good flight characteristic.

    2. Chirped pulse amplification for USP lasers didn’t come out until the mid-80s and photonic crystal fibers didn’t arrive until the late 90s. Couple it with optical clocks in the 2000s and a few other new toys and now you can do fs pulses with 100 ns plasma dissipation breaks with the power cranked up to… (checks notes)… somewhere around 81 GW.

      The targeting is still the same, though. Hit something boring but vital.

  6. Interesting. There was some high power laser propulsion experiments a few years back, at that time there were being quite careful with the laser for fear of unintentionally damaging satellites.

    (Searchy, search…)
    at about 1:55.

    1. Ah yes, the DoD Laser Clearinghouse. A friend occasionally had to deal with them while working on a beamed power space elevator climber project.
      A very strange organization for civilians to interface with since the rules and regulations are mostly classified, the wavelengths and power levels of concern…classified. Existence of space assets you could possibly damage…classified. Times you may not fire and orbits your beam may not cross…classified.
      You basically have to already know to contact them (or they find you, if you know what I mean), describe what you’re doing and when and then they give you a thumbs up or down with no further explanation. Pick a different test time and then repeat as necessary.

  7. I think optical lasing is a waste of time and energy for anything greater than a half mile out due to blooming. Maybe last line of defense type things. Much better to blast directional RF noise (MASER) at them until they crash.

    1. Agreed. There will obviously be a range consideration and I’d make a wild guess that the limit would be about 50 metres due to blooming. It still could be effective if it’s mounted on some fast gimbals with automatic tracking of target, but only at relatively close range. Directional RF noise would be better as it could block all comms including GPS although there could be some unwanted effect on your own systems nearby. Cameras can also be used for navigation of attack drones, so maybe a combination of both lasers and RF noise.

      1. Unless there’s enough compute power on board to use that camera, the images have to be transmitted to Someplace Else, where navigational control signals can be generated, and then transmitted back to the drone.

        As others point out, you don’t really melt or ignite the target, you just hope to hit something vital. Well, seems like the most vital, hardest to protect part on these things is their radio receivers. Seems much more feasible to use RF energy to burn out their GPS and command receivers.

      1. C-RAM rounds for ground installations are designed to self destruct in flight. Of course they aren’t 100%, but its war.

        They’ve been shooting down incoming mortar rounds in ‘the sand’ for about 10 years. On the roof of the Whitehouse for 40+. Granting not many important people downrange in ether case.

    1. C-RAMs would be effective, but are poorly suited to this type of asymmetric warfare. They cost thousands of dollars per burst, have a very limited ammo capacity (something like 2 dozen bursts average bursts) and take a relatively long time to reload. Insurgents can just send $100 drones one at a time in until the ammo is depleted then send in something bigger that goes boom. Or just keep needling the system to use up massive amounts of cash and manpower. While the US would probably have the resources to feed these monsters, other militaries may not.

  8. A retroreflective metamaterial should take care of a lot of lasers, even send the energy right back to the source and damage it. However there is another technology that can induce a lot of RF energy inside of even shielded enclosures and nothing light enough to be able to fly can carry enough shielding to stop it. You don’t need to know the details (so don’t ask), but the physics should be obvious enough, once you get past your “that is impossible” naivety.

    1. “A retroreflective metamaterial should take care of a lot of lasers, even send the energy right back to the source and damage it.” Angle of incidence, angle of reflection, you don’t need to know the details. Why “a lot”? Why not “all”? What are the exceptions?

      “once you get past your “that is impossible” naivety.” Let me guess, the generator runs on water.

    1. Unfinished, pristine unoxidized aluminum is your best bet with 98% reflectivity for infrared that dips down to ~90% around 800nm in the near end. However 2% of hot is still hot and that’s still not accounting for any contamination.

      1. 99.8% reflectivity mirror cost around $100 (search at Edmund Optics, cheapest is $70). That’s peanut if you can achieve your mission. If you can buy then in quantity, I guess you can reach a dollar per mirror, you don’t need glass here, only a coating on a support (plastic?) that’s strong enough to sustain the heat during the approach time.

        1. That has a great fault. At least were I live there’s a huge amount of mosquitoes that in half a mile stains the windscreen of my car making it hard to see anything. Let alone my motorbike helmet. I don’t know how long the polished aluminum would stay clean.

      1. Goose loads are technically ‘bird shot’. In the sense they are meant for birds. Also long barreled 10 gauges with tight chokes.

        Now I want to build a computer controlled, honk tracking 10 gauge mini gun. But no, go look somewhere else Mr. ATF man/game warden.

  9. If drones are that cheap, why not combat drones with drones? Bring back to “good old chivalry” of the first world war air dogfight, but then with drones (and perhaps almost fully automated).
    Equal the playing field using the same tools and their numbers. A big ass laser is fun… but their numbers will be limited due to their cost making it less likely that they will be at the right time at the right place.

    1. Time is an enemy. You need to be able to detect and track the drones before you can launch a counter-drone, and then it takes time to get to altitude and meet the invader, let alone fight him.

      The drones are being flown by Ukranian troops at altitudes higher than the distance their sound travels, so they’re very stealthy.

      If you’ve watched any of the drone footage that’s frequently being posted to social media, you can see that they’re often targeting isolated enemy vehicles or positions. That might be because they don’t want to fly over big groups where they might be detected. And you can see they’re dropping munitions on unsuspecting troops in fortified positions, so they’re often able to approach without alerting humans.

      It’s not like Russia can afford to assign a trained anti-drone pilot to every tank or truck – they are having a hard time scraping together enough barely-trained volunteers to stuff into uniforms.

      And that’s just the current situation. If Russia were to find a way to detect the current drones today, the Ukranians would change tactics tomorrow,

      1. I think a large modern army could use drones that are launched preemptively, if they don’t fear being detected, and that fly automatically to fight the other drones. It would solve manpower problems, at least.

      2. Long ago, a saw a picture of a US special forces ‘Hawk’ drone from a pakistani newspaper (they could tell it was American because the charge dates on the battery pack were correctly formatted). Not the giant drone named hawk, a sub 1 meter wingspan drone that looked just like a hawk and was clearly meant to ride thermals (with what I could swear was an APC folding prop). Carried a gimbled camera in it’s belly.

        Clearly meant to silently loiter at 100 feet or so.

  10. You don’t need to actually aim the drone precisely since most drone use Li-Ion battery that just fail above 60 to 85°C. So you just need to heat the drone enough so that it fails by itself, and to do so, a microwave beam is enough (and it’s a lot harder to reflect than IR or visible light). To provide enough energy so that the heating of the battery is effective is not that hard, since drone are likely launched from quite far away (else it would be too easy to shoot the operator), so the battery will already be hot. If you can reach a 100W to 200W of microwave on the drone surface, in 10s you’d have given enough power for the battery to fail (not even speaking of the low cost MEMS imu inside).

    1. Does a LIPO react to microwaves much – if they just sail on through ’em too easily or they are too easily absorbed by the outer shell materials that battery isn’t getting any hotter for being hit by a microwave… But I’m not testing such a stupid idea myself, and haven’t read of any studies on microwave interactions with lithium cells. I’d expect them to absorb enough to matter, but I just don’t know.

  11. Just for laughs, how about this: something like a potato gun, and have each projectile trail several long strands of light weight fishing line. When swarm is in range, fire volleys to arc just over the swarm. Suddenly yonder swarm finds it’s raining 10 yard long pieces of monofilament. That’d have to be problematic for all those upward facing props.

    You’d sure need a lot of it to get very many hits, but conversely it’s a lot cheaper than 10kW lasers.

  12. I think a lower power laser to blind/destroy video sensors combined with a highly directional GPS jammer would take care of both modes of delivery – active optical and GPS.

  13. A Cheap Anit-Drone Drone is the way to go. Fight low cost with lower cost. Envision an inexpensive drone with a deployable net that tracks the target drone, flies above it, and drags a net that cripples the targets blades. If its cheap enough don’t bother releasing the net just crash the target.

    Or include an explosive load and debris and just get close enough.

    Or create a mesh of drones each holding a corner of a net that fly around and collect targets.

    Or fire a few rockets that hold a corner of a net.

    Or drop small rocks from a helicopter flying above the drones.

    My personal favorite though is to eliminate land mines. Instead disperse 100 drones and leave them on the field. When needed they are enabled and pop up and swarm the enemies tank. Then they each deploy a small charge to disable the tank.

    1. Maybe the anit-drone drone could spray that sticky foam insulating stuff into a web that sticks to the target drone and disables it. That stuff is hard to remove and sticks to everything.

      1. Spider-drones! Spider-drones!
        They’ll smack you with a web of foam!
        Spin them up, anytime!
        They’ll leave your troops covered in slime!
        Hey there!
        Watch out for Spider-drones!
        (With apologies to Stan Lee)

    1. Securing software is hard when they don’t take the time to do it, or if the system is really complicated, but if the only attack surface is the radio link and the GPS, they will have a hard time. They could eventually spoof the radio commands or the GPS signals (or jam them, it has already been mentioned).

  14. And yet they are used there, because they shoot self destructing ammo.

    But i did not know how expenssive they are. In a video it was stated they cost 10-15 million dollars a piece. That’s some serious over charging.

  15. The gas circulation was 4 or 5 muffin fans inside the laser cavity. There was a liquid to gas heat exchanger on one side of the fan rack for cooling. The cavity was a stainless steel (probably 2mm thick) flanged tray, that was a meter or meter and a half long. The tray was probably 30cm tall and 30cm wide. There were two large parallel copper bar shaped electrodes, with pre-ionizer spikes and capacitors running the length of the electrodes on either side. Cooling water circulated through the heat exchanger in the cavity and through the HV power supply. The top of the laser cavity was a piece of clear plastic, about a cm thick. The capacitor and thyraton sat on top of the plastic sheet. The outside case looked kind of like one of those car top luggage carriers.

    The water chiller made some noise but the gas circulation fans were pretty well inaudible.

  16. One problem with this discussion is the highly variable meaning of the word “drone”. Could mean anything from a 250 gram aerial-photography unit (with 3-figure price tag) to a conventional fighter/bomber aircraft weighing thousands of kg that’s fitted for remote control (with 8-figure price tag).

    While small drones don’t have much in the way of defenses and have very limited range, they can also be nearly impossible to detect at any distance. Aside from radio jamming, it seems like not much can be done about them.

    Improvised drones large enough to carry explosives could still be quite small (around 1 meter). Fitted for a suicide mission, they could potentially operate without radio control. They might still depend upon GPS unless dead-reckoning and/or camera tracking were used. Still seems unlikely you could notice them in time to do anything, unless you’re lucky.

    Once you get above a certain size, then perhaps you might have radar to help you spot them, though the usual cat-and-mouse game applies there.

    I think the main problem overall is that humans spend far too much effort on figuring out ways to harm each other than helping each other.

  17. The first target of any drone swarm attack will be the bright shiny lazer thingy.
    During world war II the fighters would shoot out the spotlights the AA guns were using.
    Nowadays the first target of any raid is the SAM missile site.

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