The Army’s directed energy offices have made strides to develop laser systems with successful beam control capabilities, but the science and technology community could use more help from industry to help it reach the next level, a service official said March 20.

Beam control is “the frontier where we will move from the 60 percent solution to the 80 percent solution,” said Craig Robin, senior research scientist for directed energy applications at the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, at the annual Booz Allen Hamilton [BAH] and Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments-sponsored Directed Energy Conference in Washington, D.C.

An artist’s rendering of Dynetics’ High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator (HEL TVD) in action, designed to counter UAS, rockets, artillery, and mortars for the Army. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

While programs such as the Army’s Multi-Mission High Energy Laser (MMHEL) effort have functioning beam control capabilities, more investment should be made to finetune the process, particularly for lower altitude applications where the air is thicker and more likely to affect the laser’s targeting control, Robin said during a Wednesday afternoon plenary session.

“Some investments should be made in our community on looking at beam control… not just in performance, but also in size and weight,” he said. More representative platforms, more data and more experience in the S&T community are needed to make more progress, he added.

Robin noted that a 100-kilowatt laser system is not necessary to test a new beam control system. “You need a surrogate system and … get it out to the field. … You don’t need a 100-kilowatt, 50-kilowatt, 10-kilowatt laser source to go out out and collect this data and to make these types of measurements.”

Meanwhile, testing is ongoing for several Army efforts to place a high energy laser on a General Dynamics Land Systems [GD]-built Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle, Robin said. The MMHEL technology maturation initiative began in fiscal year 2019, and is working to test a 50-kilowatt laser system on a Stryker. It is currently on schedule to undergo an operational demonstration in FY ‘21 to test its counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortars capabilities, as well as counter-unmanned aerial systems and counter-battery targeting.

The Army’s program to develop a 100-kilowatt High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator (HEL TVD) also remains on schedule to demonstrate target acquisition, tracking, and counter-RAM capabilities in FY ’22, Robin said. A Dynetics-led team and Raytheon [RTN] are competing for the final $130 million down-select to develop and build the demonstrator, which is expected to be awarded early this year (Defense Daily, Aug. 7, 2018).