Almost 300,000 km per second. That’s the speed of light, and also the speed of laser light. Faster than any projectile. A laser is also accurate and always hits its target. This means it should be possible to bring down unwanted drones quickly and cheaply. In a laboratory set-up for weapon systems, TNO is already seeing promising test results with a high-energy laser.
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From an innocent toy to an offensive weapon: that’s what happens when malicious people attach explosives to drones. The fact that improvised explosive devices like this can inflict significant damage was confirmed yet again last September, during the attacks on Saudi Arabian oil installations.
Gatwick airport plagued by drones
Even without explosives, drones can still cause major problems. In 2018, at Britains Gatwick airport, a few simple and inexpensive drones proved capable of causing hours of disruption to air traffic.
“The Netherlands has its own counter-drone research programme. The problem is being taken very seriously.”
Counter-drone research programme
Several countries across the world, including the Netherlands, are developing solutions for the problem of drones. Last year the Netherlands launched its own counter-drone research programme, spearheaded by the Ministry of Defence, the National Police and the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV). The problem is being taken very seriously and is therefore high on the agenda.
“The first challenge is to quickly detect and identify an incoming drone”, says Patrick Keyzer, who heads up TNO's research programme. “If a drone appears to represent a genuine threat, we have to disarm it as quickly as possible. Of course, it must be done with the utmost care and we need to ensure that we inflict as little unintentional damage as possible.”
“TNO is testing a high-energy laser capable of burning a hole in thick steel plate in just a few seconds”
Using a laser is one of the possibilities for disabling drones. “It’s a highly effective method”, confirms Federica Valente, Business Developer for TNO's high-energy laser research. In a heavily-secured bunker, her colleagues are testing a high-energy laser capable of burning a hole in thick steel plate in a matter of seconds. “That’s obviously more than enough firepower to bring down drones.”
Less than a euro a shot
“This kind of laser is also extremely accurate and cost-effective”, she continues. “To fire it, you only have to pay for the energy: less than a euro each time. A laser is also very flexible, enabling you to monitor the drone’s every movement at relatively low cost.”
“In addition to using a laser, we can also take control of the drones or use jammers”
“A laser weapon certainly has numerous advantages”, agrees Keyzer. “But we need to carefully assess the setting and situation in which a drone appears. It’s important to have several options at our disposal for disabling drones responsibly. This is why we’re currently developing and researching several different solutions. In addition to using a laser, we can also take control of the drones or use jammers. So, it’s not a case of ‘one solution fits all’. Nevertheless, the emergence of a laser weapon will help enormously in combating the threat of drones.”
The laser weapon is just one of the weapon systems that TNO is researching. The aim of these innovations is to protect those who protect us. Read more about Weapon Systems Control and Analysis.