Northrop Grumman torches drones in test of new laser weapon

Last year, Northrop Grumman demonstrated a laser system that could disable small boats by setting their motors on fire from a distance. In a press release yesterday, it showed some images highlighting entirely new levels of destruction wrought by its latest laser system, Firestrike.

Firestrike is a high-energy solid-state laser system whose most notable feature at this stage is that it's about the size of two household microwaves, at just 23 inches by 40 inches by 12 inches. From that small box comes over 13 kilowatts of energy, which, when focused on a surplus BQM-74 drone intended to represent a cruise missile, is enough to do this:

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13 kilowatts is probably not sufficient power to weaponize a laser system at combat ranges (the above shots were made at very close range in a laboratory), but the nice thing about Firestrike is that you can just slap a bunch of 'em together and combine their powers to generate one single massive beam. The general wisdom is that you'd need about a megawatt of power to be useful, and this is certainly achievable if Firestrike is used as a naval weapon on a ship with plenty of space, plenty of power, and plenty of cooling capacity. And what with Congress apparently sweet on laser weapons right now, it seems like Northop Grumman is well positioned to make Firestrike an operational reality in the reasonably near future.

Press Release, via CNET

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