Video posted on U.S. Defense contractor Raytheon’s Twitter account, appear to show future laser weapon systems that that can stop enemy hypersonic missiles.
Hypersonic weapons are travel many times the speed of sound, and allow for the destruction of targets anywhere in the world in less than an hour. The new generation missiles are a growing and extremely complex threat to US and allies national interests.
“Potential adversaries are developing sophisticated ballistic and cruise missile systems, with increased speed, range, accuracy and lethality,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John C. Rood told last month the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee at a hearing on missile defense policies and programs.
In a video statement published by Raytheon said: “What can catch a missile moving many times the speed of sound? An interceptor that’s as fast as light. See how we’re hurtling toward lasers that can stop hypersonic missiles.”
The company’s website also said that Raytheon’s innovators are working on world-changing technologies that push the limits of what people can do.
Today’s laser weapons can already defeat drones, but cranking out enough photons to fry a ballistic missile would take far more power. Once engineers find a clean, practical and efficient way to produce all that power, they’ll also need to focus it into an ultra-precise beam. That, in turn, takes bigger optical mirrors with coatings that withstand such a massive amount of energy. And, of course, they’ll need a vehicle that can carry it all.
Lastly, there’s the “line-of-sight” problem; lasers shoot perfectly straight, meaning a laser shot toward the horizon will eventually hit the Earth’s curves. That’s a problem when you’re trying to hit a missile on the other side of the world.
When it comes to ballistic missile defense, “you want to get it into airborne platforms and into space,” said Evan Hunt, a former U.S. Air Force navigator who now works in business development for Raytheon’s high-energy laser products. “It’s better to look down than to shoot up.”
To pull it off, engineers will have to scale up the parts of laser weapons that are working today and steal from other advances in technology. Commercial markets are making leaps in power storage, Hunt said, and the military is already driving innovation in electro-optical and infrared sensors.
“All the other key subsystems in the laser weapon are being spurred by existing markets,” Hunt said, “(but) there needs to be some out-of-the-box thinking to get where MDA, the Air Force and Space Force need to go.”
Laser missile interceptors could deter the development of nuclear weapons.
“Imagine you’re a country that has to invest in a nuclear weapon,” Hunt said, “and then all of a sudden the U.S. comes out with an ability to shoot your nuclear weapon down at cents per shot. I think you could really hurt people’s incentive to go that route.”
What can catch a missile moving many times the speed of sound? An interceptor that’s as fast as light. See how we’re hurtling toward lasers that can stop hypersonic missiles: https://t.co/LqZ8YeBvOU pic.twitter.com/7RyZqy94Q0
— Raytheon (@Raytheon) May 20, 2019