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Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office

Soldiers Conduct High Energy Laser Training and Demonstration at Yuma Proving Ground
by Kristen Burroughs, Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office

YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. (May 26, 2022) -- Designed to protect fixed and semi-fixed sites from drone threats, the Army recently completed its demonstration and training event of a 10kW-class prototype laser weapon system. Known as the Palletized-High Energy Laser (P-HEL), the prototype weapon system is part of an emerging industry of innovative technologies that the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), in support of the Joint Counter small Unmanned Aircraft System Office (JCO), is accelerating.

This emerging capability was demonstrated in an operationally relevant environment at Yuma Proving Ground (YPG), Arizona and will be followed by deployment of the system for further evaluation and operational use.

“There’s no doubt lasers will be on the future large scale ground combat battlefield so it’s great to see these initial prototypes to gain understanding of its capabilities and think through where these capabilities will fit into our organizations, the impact on how we fight, and understand how we need to adjust our doctrine,” said MG Ken Kamper, Commanding General of the Fires Center of Excellence. “The laser, as part of a necessary layered set of capabilities against threat unmanned aircraft systems, has tremendous potential.”

The demonstration took place from April 25-29 with Soldiers on-the-ground to successfully execute the capability to detect, acquire, track, and engage targets in a realistic combat scenario. The P-HEL engaged rotary and fixed wing UAS targets with multiple challenging vignettes that required the Soldiers to react to different flight scenarios. Ultimately, every Soldier killed at least one target. Eighteen total targets were killed over the entire demonstration. The RCCTO developed the P-HEL prototype weapon system in a short 10-month period, from contract award to this demonstration at YPG. Next, this effort will lead to the development of a 20kW-class P-HEL prototype weapon system.

“Our objective at Yuma was to demonstrate not only the capability to kill targets, but to validate that we can train Soldiers in a short duration, and do it anywhere,” said LTC Adam Miller, Product Manager for the RCCTO Directed Energy C-sUAS office, who leads the P-HEL effort. “The system and training package are capable of deploying to austere environments in support of operational needs.”

Prior to the demonstration, Soldiers from the recently reactivated 4-60th Air Defense Artillery (ADA) Battalion at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, conducted two weeks of System Familiarization Training in Huntsville, Alabama.

The prime contractor, SAIC is responsible for integrating the prototype C-sUAS 10kW-class HEL weapon System. Liteye Systems and Anduril Industries are providing external sensors, Rocky Research is providing the thermal control and power generation system and BlueHalo is providing the laser system. The 20kW-class HEL is being developed by Radiance Technologies.

“The P-HEL capability is a big milestone for the Army and for the joint forces for many reasons,” LTC Miller said. “In just two weeks, they've learned the technicalities of a new system and have become proficient enough to kill targets.”

During the first week, SAIC led a five-day, classroom training session for the Soldiers to learn how to tactically emplace, operate, and displace the P-HEL prototype weapon system. Soldiers provided daily feedback on the system throughout their training.

“We were given several detailed blocks of safety instructions from SAIC followed by an overview of how the P-HEL prototype weapon system works and the mission capabilities of this specific system,” said SPC Cody Eldridge, who is assigned to 4-60th ADA Battalion.

Incorporating Soldier feedback is a core aspect of developing these prototype systems on an accelerated timeline.

By implementing previously collected Soldier feedback from other directed energy efforts, Soldiers were able to operate the system using commercial gaming controllers, allowing them to easily navigate the systems user interface. During this time, Soldiers initiated over 60 hours of hands-on training.

“We received instructions at the SAIC facility, where we actually got to see the system set up,” said SGT Matthew Watt, assigned to 4-60th ADA Battalion. “We were able to familiarize ourselves with the equipment through simulations of the commander and gunner stations to track and detect targets using gaming controllers.”

The second week took place at Redstone Test Center, allowing Soldiers to focus on the commander and gunner stations tactical procedures, subsystem performance and reliability.

“The Army makes a big investment in every Soldier Touch Point event,” said LTC Miller. “The P-HEL program recognizes the commitment the Army took to provide training for these Soldiers, and we are ecstatic that they not only provided great training feedback but demonstrated system proficiency given the time constraints we work on with the prototype systems.”

The Soldiers were able to execute what they learned during the demonstration held at YPG at the end of April. This also provided another opportunity for additional Soldier feedback to further refine the prototype weapon system.

“We were able to detect, track, and kill targets on the range,” said SGT Watt. “The training we received in Huntsville made the process and procedures go a lot smoother and allowed us to become comfortable with operating the system.”

The on-ground training at YPG was designed as a leader-follower construct, where the instructors tracked targets and operated the system while the Soldiers observed. During this time, the instructors also discussed the safety parameters to set the stage for the week long demonstration.

A second 20kW-class P-HEL prototype demonstration is planned for September 2022.

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