General Atomics, the arms company responsible for the Predator Drones currently uses by the CIA and USAF, has another trick up its sleeve. The High Energy Liquid Laser Defense System–HELLADS for short–would arm those unmanned killing machines with appropriately futuristic weaponry: high-powered lasers. Predator drones, with their battery of two Hellfire missiles, must return to base to re-up on ammo as soon as they deploy their weapons. HELLADS-enabled drones, on the other hand, would have an “unlimited magazine,” according to a source close to the program.
The technology, which could be ready in as little as five years, would render unmanned vehicles capable of performing longer missions than ever before, returning to base only to refuel–especially when combined with something like what’s used on Northrop Grumman’s entirely computer-controlled X-47B drone.
Time points out the ups and downs of using laser-based weaponry:
But lasers – even tiny ones – have bad, as well as good, points. Downside: they’re a line-of-sight weapon, so they’re not like fire-and-forget missiles that home in on the heat or radar return generated by a target. And they don’t work so well through haze, dust or the fog of war. Upside: they travel at the speed of light, so jinking to avoid being hit (assuming the target is an aircraft) really isn’t an option.
That’s sufficiently terrifying. Check out General Atomics’ very dramatic HELLADS demonstration video above.