Boeing trumpets 'relevant battlefield laser' raygun

Copes easily with aggressive sitting ducks, barrels of fish

Ahem. "During the test, the system also took a step toward demonstrating a counter-unmanned aerial vehicle capability by destroying two small unmanned aerial vehicles that were stationary on the ground."

Hmm. One can typically destroy a small unmanned aerial vehicle, if stationary on the ground, with nothing more technically sophisticated than a length of pipe. This isn't exactly amazing stuff.

But Boeing reckons Laser Avenger "could be upgraded... to destroy other kinds of targets, including low-flying unmanned aerial vehicles."

Which would be dandy if anyone on "today's battlefield" - apart from the USA and its friends - was using flying robots. Some people are puzzled by this lack of interest by the Taliban, Iraqi insurgents and such in small drone aircraft, and expect them to get in on the game soon. There are certain applications they might find useful; for instance, small cheap GPS-guided jobs could act as mini cruise missiles against US and allied bases.

But this sort of thing could be dealt with in easier ways than laser-cannon defences. Even the most basic aerobot relies on the electromagnetic spectrum in some way, if only to receive GPS transmissions. A little bit of localised jamming or spoofing of the civil GPS signal (nothing so heavy-handed as fooling with the satellites would be required) and the jihadi flying-bomb guys will be out of luck. Such measures are widely believed to be available already, in fact.

Any more sophisticated unmanned aircraft would need an actual communications link of some sort, and that kind of thing makes Western electronic-warfare guys very happy indeed. A system of that nature would most probably be a death warrant for its operator, in addition to having almost zero chance of successfully achieving anything.

So perhaps the non-appearance of improvised cruise missiles isn't so surprising. And perhaps Boeing's rather feeble, rather heavy raygun isn't, in fact, very relevant to today's battlefield after all. The old gag about lasers being "a solution in search of a problem" comes to mind here.

All of which might explain why the company had to pay for Laser Avenger's development themselves, rather than getting any Pentagon seed money. ®

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