Using high energy lasers could reduce the cost of shooting down missiles and UAVs, while improving accuracy

The Middle Eastern nation of Israel is currently in the midst of a dire real world test of the most ambitious missile defense system in history -- Iron Dome.  While the system cost billions to deploy, in the recent conflict along the Gaza Strip border it has paid off. The system has intercepted an estimated 80 to 90 percent of missiles that are directed at populated targets (as the enemy's missiles are improvised and hand-launched, many land harmlessly in the desert; the system ignores those marks).

In the U.S., Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), one of the world's largest defense contractors, is testing a high-tech missile defense system that could one day replace or supplement missile-based interceptor systems like Iron Dome.

The Lockheed system is dubbed the "Area Defense Anti-Munitions (ADAM) system" and packs a powerful 10-kilowatt laser capable of destroying targets up to 2 km (1.24 mi) away.

In a field test of ADAM, the system "successfully engaged" (sounds like a hit, but not necessarily destruction of) an unmanned aerial vehicle at a distance of 1.5 km (0.9 mi).  The system also "destroyed" not one, but four "small-caliber rocket targets" at a range of 2 km.

Adam UAV target
This is the image seen from the ADAM system as it locks onto the UAV.

Lockheed Martin developed the entire modular software/hardware package that powers targeting and interception.  The system uses radar to locate threats and the built-in laser to eliminate them.

Paul Shattuck, Lockheed Martin’s director of directed energy systems for Strategic and Missile Defense Systems comments, "Lockheed Martin has applied its expertise as a laser weapon system integrator to provide a practical and affordable defense against serious threats to military forces and installations.  In developing the ADAM system, we combined our proven laser beam control architecture with commercial hardware to create a capable, integrated laser weapon system."

Adam wagon
An artist's rendering of the 10 kw laser-based ADAM interceptor system

An important limitation of the system is its line-of-sight (LOS) requirement.  As the destructive force is delivered via a laser light beam, it can only target projectiles it can "see".  This shortcoming may lead traditional interceptors to be used closer to populate regions (where exploding missiles directly overhead could endanger citizens), but supplemented by laser-based interceptor system on the border of a hostile neighbor entity/state.

The capability to intercept UAVs is particularly interesting.  While the U.S. has long had a relative hegemony on the emerging combat technology, which it has fielded in combat operations in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, of late several hostile nation-states have been working to develop UAVs of their own.  Most notably Iran, known for voicing strong anti-American, anti-Israeli sentiments, showed off his "Messenger of Death" drone bomber, which it is developing, aided by reverse engineering of a seized U.S. UAV flier.

Source: Lockheed Martin

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