The Pentagon is thinking about the future, and how to shoot it down. We don’t know, exactly, what the future holds, but DARPA, the Pentagon’s future-projects wing, expects that there will be a lot of small drones, and if possible, they’d like a tool that can protect against those drones.
Specifically, DARPA is soliciting a form of “Mobile Force Protection.” They’ve put out a request for information to identify “novel, flexible, mobile layered defense systems and component technologies that could be leveraged to improve force protection against a variety of sUAS (small unmanned aerial system) threats and tactics, could be fielded within the next three to four years, and are structured to rapidly evolve with threat and tactic advancements.”
Or, in plain language, something that can see and thwart drones, will be ready by 2020, and is upgradeable. DARPA has a laundry list of ways they want this new system to see drones, with sensors detecting, identifying, and tracking the small unmanned aerial systems. What happens next is captured by the much vaguer “neutralization,” which could include everything from catching it in a net to overriding its flight controls to being caught by an eagle.
But that’s not all! DARPA wants this system, which could go on trucks and ships, to also “address rocket, artillery, mortar, and other conventional threats.” There are only a few weapons in the world that can do all of that, and they’re mostly lasers. The United States Air Force and Army are developing laser weapons, and the U.S. Navy already fielded one laser weapon, and is working on others. The Marine Corps, which shares a budget with the Navy, is even working on laser-toting anti-drone trucks. And while DARPA will probably want to stick with American companies, both Israel and Germany are showing off anti-drone laser weapons at military trade shows.
What’s remarkable about this DARPA request, then, isn’t so much that they want a laser weapon to shoot down flying robots, it’s that a lot of other people making military technology already had this idea, and are working on it too.