Kawasaki Heavy Industries, the Japanese multinational corporation, unveiled a new weapon for fighting drones at the recent Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) Japan conference. The tool, which is mounted on top of a four-wheel ATV frame, is designed to destroy drones within a 100-meter range using a high-energy laser. The laser system has a tracker, a gimbal to balance and hold the laser’s focus, and a 2 kilowatt power source. It can track targets up to 300 meters and was created at the request of Japan’s Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency (ATLA).
The system was exhibited during the DSEI Japan conference, which featured 178 companies from 66 countries. The laser vehicle was designed to intercept incoming missiles through precise targeting, and it is part of a comprehensive suite of tools that utilizes the electromagnetic spectrum. According to a 2020 strategy document from ATLA, high-powered lasers are the most effective tools for damaging and destroying missiles, uncrewed ships, and drones, especially smaller and cheaper drones, according to Shephard Media.
Kawasaki’s laser vehicle is unique because of its power level. With just 2 kilowatts, the vehicle is attempting to destroy drones with an amount of power comparable to what it takes to run a dishwasher. Other laser weapons designed to quickly burn through incoming artillery rounds or missiles can use power in the tens or even low hundreds of kilowatts. However, drones are small and weak targets, and a laser does not necessarily need a lot of power to burn through the more vulnerable parts of a quadcopter.
While the laser is currently mounted on an ATV, it can be mounted on other vehicles, which could be beneficial due to its power requirements. As a tool for hunting down drones, limited range and power hinder function, but as a defensive system mounted on vehicles that might come under attack by drones, a smaller laser that sips power could be enough to disable a drone. Drones can be deadly threats on their own by dropping bombs, but they are also used as spotters for other weapons, like artillery.
Japan’s defense strategy, published in December 2022, emphasizes the country’s efforts to reinforce its capability to respond to small UAVs with weapons including directed-energy weapons. Lasers like Kawasaki’s are the start of an effective counter-drone strategy, one explicitly framed as a beginning approach while developing more and different powerful systems. These could include high-powered lasers and high-powered microwaves. As the threat from small drones has expanded, so too are the tools explored by countries to stop all manner of aerial threat, including small drones.