Lockheed Martin has been tasked by the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to help create a laser-based defence system to counter enemy ballistic missiles as soon as they are launched.

The laser will be mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or a drone. Lockheed Martin entered a contract last week worth $9.4m (£7.13m) to develop this system for the MDA.

According to a report in militaryaerospace.com, the contract was for the first phase of the Low Power Laser Demonstrator (LPLD) project.

Lockheed Martin is also working on a laser system to counter drones. Only last month, it released a video of their ATHENA laser weapon system taking down five airborne UAVs.

This weapon, however, will have the lasers mounted on the aircraft to counter missiles. The first phase of the project will involve the low power prototype maintain beam stability at a long range and the ability to stay on a target the size of a ballistic missile, says the report.

Once this is established, the next step for the LPLD will be to address power and aperture size by testing it after mounting the laser on a drone.

Initial tests are being done with low power so that technology can be developed around it in the future. According to the report, the plan is to create a high-energy laser weapon that can be mounted on high altitude drones. From a high altitude, ballistic missiles could then be targeted at its boost phase and destroyed right away.

The report mentions how destroying a ballistic missile at the boost phase is beneficial as, in one go, several warheads can be destroyed and their decoys can also be taken out before they begin their descent toward the target. In fact, the idea is to make sure that the missiles are destroyed just as it leaves the launchpad.

This means the laser will have to be precise, the drone must be able to focus on the target and hold it steady for just the right amount of time to destroy it – these are the technologies that LPLD is looking to perfect.

Lockheed Martin is also working on the SR-72 hypersonic drone, which is designed to fly at high altitudes. It is being made as a replacement for the SR-71 Blackbird.

There is no word yet from the aerospace company if they will eventually mate these two technologies together – the high-altitude drone and the high-energy laser.

This comes at a time when North Korea has made ICBMs that are capable of reaching US territories like Guam and the US seems to want to "totally destroy" the country.

Infographic: Here's how missiles send deadly explosive payloads to targets around the world.
Source SPACE.com