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Growing Drone Industry Spawns a Growing Antidrone Industry

Radar, remote ID, and other tools can counter rogue drones 


3 min read
Photo: Press Association/AP
High-flying hazards: Drones can be a dangerous nuisances for airports.
Photo: Press Association/AP

Drone sightings at London’s Gatwick Airport disrupted operations there for three days last December, and in January, rumored sightings near Newark [N.J.] Liberty International Airport delayed incoming air traffic temporarily. These incidents highlighted a growing problem with small drones: Miscreants, or just clueless operators, can make real trouble by flying these machines where they’re not allowed.

Rogue drones have been a long-standing worry for regulators, who have pursued a wide array of ideas to address the issue. Now, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is preparing a new report on the matter. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, passed last October, called for a careful study of tools to counter drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and required the FAA to review its counter-UAS activities and report the results to Congress.

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Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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