US Army Starts Construction On Prototype Lasers

Foreign Affairs

Washington: After years of lower-power field tests and more than one thousand hours of soldier feedback, the US Army is on track to field-test two different types of high-energy lasers in 2022: a 50-kilowatt weapon to destroy enemy drones and incoming artillery rockets, and a 300-kW weapon that could potentially shoot down cruise missiles.

The key components for both systems are now under construction, the directed energy chief Craig Robin at the Rapid Capabilities & Critical Technologies Office said.

He said the service plans many more “soldier touch points” to come on both programs, especially once the prototypes are built and available for field tests.

“That’s real hardware being built now,” Robin said. “The laser weapon hardware exists now; we expect to have them integrated on the vehicles by the end of December.”

In fact, there are two competing lasers being built for DE-MSHORAD, one by Northrop Grumman and the other by Raytheon. Each of those lasers will be integrated onto a different Stryker for a “shoot off” – officially, a “performance characterisation” – at Fort Sill, Okla. in May 2021, when real soldiers will put both weapons through their places in a realistic combat scenarios.

Earlier Stryker-mounted lasers successfully shot down drones in prior field tests with real soldiers. Troops’ input in field tests, brainstorming sessions, and reviews of CAD designs, Robin said, helped refine everything from the user interface controlling the weapon, to how equipment should be installed inside the Stryker so the crew wouldn’t hit it scrambling in and out. Power output has also risen rapidly in recent years, from just two kilowatts in 2016 to five, to 10, to the 50 kW weapons now being built.

Prime contractor Kord Technologies will integrate both the Raytheon and Northrop weapons, plus a power & thermal management system by Rocky Research, onto the Stryker, with assistance from the vehicle’s original manufacturer, General Dynamics Land Systems.

The laser-armed DE-MSHORAD will operate alongside the Leonardo DRS IM-SHORAD variant of the Stryker – now in testing – which wields a more traditional anti-aircraft armament of guns and missiles.

If the 2022 demonstration shots go well – and the soldiers’ feedback is positive – the Army plans to build and field four HEL-IFPC laser trucks as a combat unit in 2024.

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