The Air Force recently tested Lockheed Martin's Advanced Test High Energy Asset anti-drone laser as Pentagon interest in emerging counter-drone technologies continues to grow.
The U.S. Air Force put ATHENA -- also the name of the Greek goddess of war -- through its paces, shooting down multiple Class 1 and 2 fixed-wing and rotary drones at a government-owned training range at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the company said in a news release Thursday.
It marked the first time the service operated the system instead of Lockheed engineers, tracking targets with a military-owned command-and-control (C2) system.
"The radar track was provided to airmen who operated ATHENA via cues from the C2, then ATHENA's beam director slewed, acquired, tracked and defeated the drone with a high-energy laser," Lockheed said in the release.
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The new test follows two previous experiments by the Army in 2015 and 2017. The fiber laser, equipped with advanced beam control technology, took out five Outlaw drones at the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in 2017.
"The Air Force focus is to field-test and evaluate directed-energy systems for counter-drone capability and readiness for fielding for air base defense mission," Lockheed spokesman Mark Lewis told Military.com on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Army's focus has been "to determine what capabilities -- directed energy and C2 -- will facilitate the defeat of aerial threats for the maneuver brigade and maneuver battalion," he said. That includes defense against mortar attacks.
Other defense companies are also making headway.
In August, the Air Force awarded Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems a $23.8 million contract for two prototype high-energy laser weapons (HELW) systems, designed to take out unmanned aerial systems.
The service expects to deploy the HELW mounted on ground-based vehicles in a few months for a year-long test.
The Air Force also gave Raytheon a $16 million contract to prototype the Phaser high-powered microwave counter-drone system, to be deployed and tested by service personnel within the same timeframe as the HELW.
The latest news highlights the military's need to address the growing challenge of targeting small, unsophisticated but potentially lethal drones.
For example, in September, swarms of drones decimated Saudi oil production facilities, which prompted the U.S. to increase its posture in the region.
A new report published earlier this year states that emerging counter-drone technologies -- both for civil and military use -- are on the rise and will see an increase over the next decade.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.
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