Turkish manufacturers have unveiled what they describe as the world’s first laser-armed drone.
But those who were expecting a flying laser cannon will be disappointed.
The Turkish drone is designed for a less glamorous – if no less important – work: neutralizing bombs.
The Eren drone successfully fired a laser at a range of 100 to 500 meters (328 to 1,640 feet), and was able to burn a hole in three millimeters of steel in 90 seconds, according to media reports.
“Stating that the laser weapon has the ability to destroy handmade bombs and military ammunition from certain distances, Eroglu explained that Eren was tested by shooting at a steel plate,” said Turkey’s state-controlled Andadolu news agency (English translation here).
Photos of the Eren show what looks like a roughly 2-foot-tall quadcopter with a box slung underneath the fuselage. The craft reportedly has a flight altitude of 3,000 meters (9,842 feet).
However, Turkey has not released most of the Eren’s technical specifications. So it is not clear, for example, how many shots the laser can fire before it needs recharging.
Interestingly, the laser drone appears to be more of a law enforcement than military project. “The drone was built by a partnership between Turkey’s state-run scientific research institute Tubitak and the private company Asisguard,” said U.S. defense publication Defense News. “The development program was administered by the Criminal Department of Turkey’s General Directorate of Security.”
Several nations are developing directed energy weapons, including the U.S. Navy, which just released images of the amphibious transport dock USS Portland testing a laser against a surface target in the Gulf of Aden. Indeed, lasers are becoming a weapon of choice for destroying missiles, drones, and small boats. They are seen as a cheap means of defense compared to using a defensive missile – that might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars – to stop a drone that might cost hundreds of dollars. In particular, high-energy lasers may be the only feasible weapon against drone swarms comprising hundreds of small unmanned vehicles that would overwhelm air defense missiles and cannons, or against hypersonic missiles traveling faster Mach 5.
A more distant but quite feasible prospect is arming sixth-generation fighters – which might appear around 2040 – with lasers sufficiently powerful to destroy aircraft and other large targets. Despite some formidable technical obstacles, such as size, weight and power (SWaP) requirements and the need for a laser to focus on a moving target for several seconds, laser weapons could revolutionize air combat.
For now, if the Eren drone does prove to be a viable concept, it will further cement Turkey’s reputation as a drone powerhouse. Turkish combat drones have already been used in Syria, Libya, Ethiopia, and most prominently in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, where Azerbaijan used Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktar missile-armed drones to decimate Armenian tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft missiles.
A seasoned defense and national security writer and expert, Michael Peck is a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy Magazine, Defense News, The National Interest, and other publications. He can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.