| Pentagon unveils laser capable of shooting down drones, mortars!

Pentagon unveils laser capable of shooting down drones, mortars ~ RT.

The US Army has successfully used a vehicle-mounted laser to shoot down numerous mortar rounds and drone aircraft for the first time.

Taking place over the course of several weeks, the test involved destroying more than 90 incoming mortar rounds and multiple drones. Eventually, the Army hopes to test an even more advanced laser system that could shoot down more dangerous weapons, such as incoming cruise missiles.

Named the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), the current version of the weapon features three to five lasers that can be attached to the top of a military vehicle in a dome-like turret structure. According to Terry Bauer, the Army’s program manager for the weapon at Boeing, when the HEL MD hits a target like a mortar, it heats up the insides to the point that the mortar explodes in mid-air.

“It falls as a single piece of metal with a little bit of shrapnel. It basically falls where it was going to fall, but it doesn’t explode when it hits the ground,” Bauer said to the Christian Science Monitor“We turn it into a rock, basically.”

When it comes to shooting down drones, the laser can be used to blind an unmanned vehicle’s cameras and take apart its tail, causing the whole thing to come crashing down to earth.

The Army hopes to use the laser to protect bases that come under fire from mortar and rocket attacks. This happened frequently during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Monitor reported that the cheap cost of using lasers would make the weapons a sensible choice for the Pentagon.

Still, officials said it is unlikely that the HEL MD will be ready for combat use before 2022, as the Army is moving to test more advanced versions over the coming years. The current system is equipped with a laser with the strength of 10 kilowatts, but future versions will be outfitted with 50- and 100-kilowatt lasers.

“If you’re engaging a target at the same range, a 100 kW laser will destroy the target in one-tenth of the time than the 10kW would,” Bauer told AFP.

The HEL MD is just one of the laser-equipped weapons being developed by the United States military. As RT reported in November, the Department of Defense is looking into attaching high-powered lasers to its next-generation fighter jets, which would be capable of tracking and disarming enemy sensors, destroying incoming missile attacks, and going on the offensive.

Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced in October its plans to develop drone-mounted laser systems that would be able to shoot missiles down from the sky.

High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) (Image from army.mil)

High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) (Image from army.mil)

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| X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle: Boeing-made mystery spacecraft launched!

Boeing-made mystery spacecraft launched ~ Seattle Times.

The military’s small, top-secret version of the space shuttle rocketed into orbit Tuesday for a repeat mystery mission, two years after making the first flight of its kind.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The military’s small, top-secret version of the space shuttle rocketed into orbit Tuesday for a repeat mystery mission, two years after making the first flight of its kind.

The space plane, dubbed the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, was launched into orbit hidden atop an Atlas V rocket Tuesday for a classified Air Force mission that could last more than nine months.

This is the third time the Air Force will send an X-37B into orbit. It resembles a miniature space shuttle, is 29 feet long with a wingspan of 15 feet, and draws solar power for energy using unfolding panels.

The X-37B vehicles were built by Boeing in Huntington Beach, Calif. Engineering work was done at the company’s facilities in Huntington Beach and Seal Beach, Calif. Components also came from Boeing’s satellite-making plant in El Segundo, Calif.

While the Air Force has said the space plane is designed to stay in orbit for 270 days, it hasn’t said much about the overall mission. It has said only that the vehicle provides a way to test new technologies in outer space. In fact, launch commentary ended 17 minutes into the flight, and a news blackout followed.

The first X-37B was launched in April 2010 and landed 224 days later on a 15,000-foot airstrip at Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara, Calif. The second X-37B spent 469 days in space.

These high-tech mystery machines are about one-quarter the size of NASA’s old space shuttles and can land automatically on a runway. The two previous touchdowns occurred in Southern California; this one might end on NASA’s three-mile-long runway once reserved for space shuttles.

Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, speculates the space plane is carrying sensors designed for spying and likely is serving as a test bed for future satellites. He dismisses rumors of “exotic ideas” for the X-37B, such as weaponry or shadowing a Chinese satellite.

While acknowledging he does not know what the space plane is carrying, McDowell said onboard sensors could be capable of imaging or intercepting electronic transmissions from terrorist training sites in Afghanistan or other hot spots.

The beauty of a reusable space plane is that it can be launched on short notice, McDowell said.

What’s important about this flight is that it is the first reflight.

“ That’s something that has only really been done with the shuttle,” he said.

The two previous secret X-37B flights were in 200-plus-mile-high orbits, circling at roughly 40-degree angles to the equator, as calculated by amateur satellite trackers.

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X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle1