Imagine if somebody had told you 20 years ago that the future of warfare would involve missile-bearing robot planes facing off against giant laser guns on the ground. Your head would've exploded. Because that's more or less the plot of Terminator 2, the big post-apocalyptic movie of the time. It's also more or less the reality of today. We've had the drones in the air for a while — boy do we have drones — and thanks to the genius of German engineering, we now have the lasers, too.
The German defense electronics firm Rheinmetall recently tested a pair of high-powered lasers in Switzerland. They look kind of like giant CCTV cameras, but they're actually designed to beam a 50-kilowatt laser at drones flying through the air at 110 miles-per-hour. (It's actually a double-barrelled device with one 30-kilowatt laser beam and one 20-kilowatt laser beam. In this case, you should cross the beams.) In case you're new to laser specs, 50 kilowatts is strong enough to burn through a steel girder a kilometer away. The laser is unphased by bad weather, and soon, Rheinmetall plans to have a truck-mounted version that can ramble through Alpine roads, shooting drones on-the-go. Which helps explain why lasers would be the weapon of choice for drone hunters. Because sophisticated drones can be difficult to detect on radar, it's easy to fire lots of missiles at them and not hit a thing. Just ask the terrorists in Pakistan who haven't been able to bring a single one down using conventional weapons.
This is only the beginning. Rheinmetall said in a press release that it "expects a high-energy laser weapon system with an output of 100 kW to be available within the next three to five years." They've also successfully tested the laser's ability to zap other moving targets like a simulated mortar round. The big question is: When are we going to get giant deadly lasers here in America? Well, the Pentagon has actually already developed an airborne laser that they mounted to a 747, but they abandoned the project last year. It was too expensive. Pro tip: In the Terminator-like post-apocalyptic future, no cost is too great for the robots.
Image via Rheinmetall