The Phantom Eye UAV is shown in flight. (Image: Sam Churchill)Boeing’s Phantom Works president Darryl Davis expects a lot out of the team’s stratospheric Phantom Eye UAV.

According to a report by Flightglobal, Davis believes the UAV could carry solid-state lasers for high-altitude sensing and communications missions. Within the next 20 years, he believes it could be involved with missile defense.

Though the Phantom Eye demonstrator has already successfully finished nine flights, Boeing is seeking other chances to improve the program through the military or commercial means.

The preliminary primary application of the UAVs would be as a satellite surrogate for ground surveillance, but as Flightglobal reported, Boeing believe the UAVs could eventually carry lasers if they become smaller.

“What I could hypothesize is the potential for a stratospheric UAS to carry a solid-state laser, doing sensing missions and maybe someday evolving to have the power output to be able to do some missile defense,” Davis said at a press briefing in St Louis on May 18. “Those things are being studied by our team all the time.”

“It all comes down to the pace at which solid-state lasers actually come to the market place.”

Boeing previously constructed the YAL-1 Airborne Laser weapons system, which was a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) united with an altered 747-400F airliner. However the project was ended due to costs and a focus on solid-state, electric-powered laser weapon systems.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is currently working with laser technology.

“There is a lot of interest from a lot of our customers, but there is an awful lot of technology maturation still to go on solid-state lasers,” Davis said. “We don’t want to be looking at chemical lasers, because they come with a logistics tail that becomes complex. A solid-state laser you can recharge and cool more often, whether it’s in a persistent, stratospheric UAV or in a potential future fighter.”

Davis continued, “As some of those payloads become more efficient and smaller in size with higher power outputs, we could very easily see, potentially in the next two decades, you could have that kind of a platform doing a sensing mission for sure, and potentially even some communications missions and then evolving someday into a stratospheric, persistent, directed-energy platform.”

Boeing believes the Phantom Eye, which traveled up to 54,000 feet for more than eight hours during its last test, could travel at a greater distance for several days if more were to be invested into the project.