Army Works to Slim Down Powerful New Laser Defense System

Artist’s rendition of Lockheed’s 100 high-energy laser. (Image: Lockheed-Martin)
Artist’s rendition of Lockheed’s 100 high-energy laser. (Image: Lockheed-Martin)

The Army is working on a powerful new 100-kilowatt laser system to defend against enemy missiles, artillery and drone swarms but will eventually have to make it smaller and lighter to deploy.

"We're trying to get it small enough and efficient enough to put on a platform," Robert Snead, an engineer with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command based at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, said Thursday, referring to the High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator (HEL TVD), which the service described as being in the "pre-prototype" stage.

He said testing of the HEL TVD "will inform the Army's decision on how to use directed energy on the battlefield."

The system, currently mounted on a cumbersome six-wheeler truck, is not deployable, Snead said, adding that the design could change substantially to make it capable of being fielded on a tactical vehicle. He spoke at the annual "Lab Day" display of military technology in the Pentagon's courtyard.

The HEL TVD boasts a "Battle Management Communications, Command and Control" subsystem designed to "receive target assignments with appropriate target cues from radars, then point the laser beam to engage the targets."

The Army plans to conduct a demonstration of the HEL TVD against a range of targets in fiscal 2022. It is also working on a less powerful laser prototype in the 50-watt range called the Maneuver Short Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD), capable of being mounted on a Stryker combat vehicle.

For years, the service has been drawn to the possibilities of directed-energy laser weapons that have a "cost per engagement substantially lower than current systems," or about $30 per shot, by Army estimates.

"The high energy laser system requires only fuel to complete its mission," the service said in promotional material handed out at Lab Day. "There is no ordnance logistics burden as with conventional weapons."

With directed-energy systems, "the average cost per kill is approximately $30," Army officials said, "which shifts the engagement cost equation in favor of U.S. forces."

With the entire system on a single tactical vehicle, defensive strategies "can be quickly adjusted in response to a changing threat environment," it added.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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