The head of the Army's directed-energy weapon effort said Wednesday that soldiers will be firing lasers from Stryker combat vehicles in a test next year to select the firm to equip the service with the high-tech air-defense weapon.
Army program officials for the service's Directed-Energy Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD) effort -- a key modernization priority designed to equip a platoon of Stryker wheeled combat vehicles with 50-kilowatt lasers in fiscal 2021 -- outlined new details of the shoot-off event between Northrop Grumman and Raytheon scheduled for the third quarter of fiscal 2021.
As part of its new modernization strategy, the Army continues to stress the importance of involving soldiers in equipment development and testing much earlier than in past efforts.
"The soldiers will actually do the combat shoot-off; it won't be done by contractors," Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director of Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space, and Rapid Acquisition, said during a Defense News space and missile defense webinar.
In July 2019, the Army selected Northrop and Raytheon to develop competing prototypes of 50-kilowatt laser-equipped Strykers as part of a $203 million deal that includes Kord Technologies as the prime contractor.
Once fielded, the laser-armed Strykers will protect Brigade Combat Teams from unmanned aerial systems (UAS); rotary-wing aircraft; and rockets, artillery and mortars.
"We are super excited about the directed-energy mission and bringing that technology to bear on the battlefield," Thurgood said.
The Army plans to team the directed-energy M-SHORAD Strykers with kinetic M-SHORADs, which will be equipped with more conventional air defense weapons.
"In the operational construct, there is a mix of kinetic killers and directed-energy killers," Thurgood said. "That's important because there really is no one weapon system that is the placebo of life. ... You need a mix of weapon systems on the battlefield to be successful."
Northrop and Raytheon will each bring their laser-equipped Stryker to the competitive shoot-off, he added, explaining that one of those Strykers will ultimately be the first of four vehicles fielded to the first platoon equipped with the 50-kilowatt version of M-SHORAD.
"We make a down-select, we buy three more of those, and we field that unit," Thurgood said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.