DARPA has already worked to put laser weapons on full-sized planes, so why not drones? Via DARPA
If a Predator drone were to get shot down, the obvious good side is that a pilot wouldn't go with it. The bad side is that you just lost a $4 million piece of equipment. So, in a bid to keep drones protected, DARPA is funding research into drone-mounted laser weapons. Wait, what?
The project, called Endurance, is referred to in DARPA's 2014 budget request as being tasked with the development of "technology for pod-mounted lasers to protect a variety of airborne platforms from emerging and legacy EO/IR guided surface-to-air missiles." The budget explains that it will be the first application of DARPA's much-discussed Excalibur laser defense system, which developed lasers powerful enough to use as weapons.
With the new program, DARPA is focused on miniaturizing the technology, as well as "developing high-precision target tracking, identification, and lightweight agile beam control to support target engagement. The program will also focus on the phenomenology of laser-target interactions and associated threat vulnerabilities." In other words, DARPA hopes that drone-mounted lasers will soon be able to shoot missiles out of the sky.
Now Military & Aerospace Electronics is reporting that the Endurance contracts have been awarded. According to the report, "Northrop Grumman is receiving a $14.6 million contract, and Lockheed Martin is receiving an $11.4 million for the Endurance program."
In the grand scheme of military research, those aren't huge contracts, which perhaps suggests the initial development will either be fairly narrow in scope or that the miniaturization process isn't expected to be too difficult. Regardless, it appears that the end goal is to not only allow drones to defend themselves against attack in an effective fashion, but also to develop drones as a more dedicated anti-missile platform. In either case, drones that can shoot lasers powerful enough to blow up a missile are on their way.