The Army is another step closer to a directed energy battlefield weapon after decades of work, as for the first time, a vehicle-mounted solid state laser was used to successfully engage mortar rounds and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in flight during recent testing at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

Battlefield lasers would provide the Army a speed-of-light and precise target destruction, with a small logistics and manpower footprint.

High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator Photo: SMDC/ARSTRAT
High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator


Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC)/Army Forces Strategic Command (ARSTRAT) started the program in the 2006-2007 timeframe with Boeing [BA] as prime contractor. The budget request for FY ’14 called for about $13.96 million.

In early 2014, HEL MD heads to Eglin AFB, Fla., to do some laser propagation testing in a marine environment, in rain and fog, a different atmosphere compared to White Sands, Terry Bauer SMDC HEL MD program manager said at a recent media roundtable.

The HEL TD plan runs through 2022, when the program will have a 100 kW laser “at what we consider a near-operational platform and capability,” Bauer said. The Army will then decide what comes next.

This was the first full-up demonstration of the USASMDC/ARSTRAT High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) in the configuration that included the laser and beam director mounted in the vehicle. A surrogate radar (Enhanced Multi Mode Radar) supported the engagement by cueing the laser.

The HEL MD successfully engaged more than 90 mortar rounds and several UAVs and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors mounted on the aircraft, during the Nov. 18-Dec. 10 testing at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. These are representative of threats against U.S. and allied forces.

Blaine Beardsley, Boeing Strategic Missile Defense Systems, said the successful tests represent a “significant capability” for warfighters.

The demonstration and testing confirms the capability of a mobile solid state laser weapon system. The initial system effectiveness was proven through low and medium power test demonstration that took place in 2011. High power testing at White Sands is now complete.

High power testing is now concluded at HELSTF.

The recent testing used a 10 kW-class commercial-off-the-shelf laser from IPG Photonics (IPGP). It was mounted on an Oshkosh [OSK] Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) used “to prove out our integration techniques for follow-on lasers and for risk reduction,” Bauer said.

In the future, the program intends to integrate a 50 kW class laser into the HEL MD platform. Subsequently, the 50 kW laser will be upgraded to a 100 kW class laser for more demonstrations. The supporting thermal and power subsystems will be also upgraded to support the increasingly powerful solid state lasers. These upgrades increase the effective range of the laser or decrease required lase time on target.

For the Army, Bauer said, the more powerful lasers–50 kW and 100 kW–“will be the ones to look at to transition to the Army in the future if the service wants.” As a program of record, the HEL would move under the cruise missile defense program office as part of the Counter-Rockets Artillery and Mortars office.

Mike Rinn, program manager, Boeing Directed Energy Systems, said the solid state lasers are becoming more efficient and smaller, and the mission space is opening up from counter-IED to sensors, to counter-rockets, mortars and artillery.

A 100 kW laser will take out a target in one-tenth the time a 10 kW laser could, given both engage a target at the same range.

The 10kW laser is not at a power level considered operational or militarily useful, Bauer said. Even so, he said, the tests destroying the mortar and UAV were above and beyond the criteria for success. “We had no thought the 10kW would be as successful …as it has been.”

For the next phase, a 50 kW laser should be ready for integration in fiscal year 2016. Integration and testing will be done in FY ’17 against an expanded target set with different size mortars and UAVs.