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U.S. laser can zap drones, mortars

AFP-JIJI

The U.S. Army has for the first time successfully tested a vehicle-mounted laser that can shoot down incoming mortar rounds and drone aircraft, officials said Thursday.

Installed in a dome-shaped turret atop a military vehicle, the high-energy laser hit more than 90 mortar bombs and several small unmanned planes over a six-week test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The experimental weapon, dubbed the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), likely would not be operational until 2022 if the army decides to purchase the system, according to officials.

The weapon, with three to five lasers, is designed to protect remote bases from mortar, artillery or rocket fire. Such attacks were frequent against forward operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.

The laser used in the test this month had a strength of 10 kilowatts, but the program will next use more powerful lasers of 50 kW and then, finally, 100 kW, officials said.