Scaling Up: Army Advances 300kW-class Laser Prototype
by Nancy Jones-Bonbrest
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (March 3, 2020) -- The Army's newest directed energy weapon is ready to multiply its power.
Solidifying the effort to demonstrate a higher-powered laser to combat a range of threats, in November the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) sponsored a High Energy Laser Scaling Initiative (HELSI) contract award by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and completed a critical design effort in support of the Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High Energy Laser (IFPC-HEL).
These developments keep the Army on track to deliver four operational, 300 kW-class IFPC-HEL prototypes integrated on tactical vehicles to a platoon by Fiscal Year (FY) 2024, while initially demonstrating the 300 kW-class capability in FY22. The effort stems from a science and technology program known as the High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator (HEL-TVD), which featured a 100 kW-class laser.
By utilizing the progress made with the HEL-TVD and combining it with similar technologies in development with the Navy and OSD, the Army will be able to deliver the higher power system with greater warfighting capability.
"The great thing about this effort is we are not starting from scratch, but instead capitalizing on the progress of the science and technology community and our joint service and OSD partners to increase combat effectiveness and maximize resources," said LTG L. Neil Thurgood, Director for Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition, who leads the RCCTO. "Laser weapon technology is here today, and the Army is on track to deliver it to Soldiers."
On Jan. 24, the Army modified an existing contract with Dynetics that adjusts the previous contract for HEL-TVD in support of the higher powered IFPC-HEL demonstration and will inform a decision to build four prototype systems. This comes after the Army completed the HEL-TVD Critical Design Review on Nov. 7, marking the official transition to the IFPC-HEL effort.
On Nov. 25, an OSD HELSI contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin and Aculight Corporation supporting the demonstration of a stand-alone 300kW-class HEL system. The company is one of three high energy laser producers participating in the OSD-led initiative to develop and lab test a 300 kW-class laser in FY22. The Army is the OSD designated proponent for Lockheed Martin in this initiative, while the other companies are Nutronics, Inc., sponsored by the Navy, and General Atomics, sponsored by the Air Force.
The OSD and Army contracts will inform and provide complementary, modular subsystems for IFPC-HEL, including beam control and electronics; beam direction; power and thermal; and the high energy laser itself. These components can be developed, tested, and integrated in parallel, enabling the rapid progress of the prototyping effort.
"The Army's Directed Energy strategy leverages proven technologies that exist today," said Dr. Craig Robin, the RCCTO's Directed Energy Project Office lead. "Our task is to increase capability by scaling those technologies to rapidly deliver prototypes with residual combat capability."
High energy lasers engage at the speed of light and provide a solution to constantly evolving threats, while reducing the logistics tail associated with conventional kinetic weapon systems. IFPC-HEL is intended to protect fixed and semi-fixed sites from rockets, artillery and mortars; unmanned aerial systems; and rotary and fixed-wing threats. Additionally, the IFPC-HEL can be used to defeat more stressing threats.
This is not the only Army DE rapid prototyping project. The RCCTO also issued an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) agreement in July to accelerate the rapid prototyping and fielding of a 50kW class laser for a platoon of Stryker vehicles in FY22 that will complement Maneuver Short Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD) capability in support of tactical and operational maneuver formations. This Directed Energy M-SHORAD system will represent the Army's first laser-based capability fielded to a fighting formation.