HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) plans to issue a broad agency announcement (BAA) “shortly” to solicit white papers on a new airborne laser prototype, according to an MDA official.

An industry day will follow the BAA, probably in mid-September, to further explain the agency’s plans, said Richard Matlock, MDA’s program executive for advanced technology.MDA logo

If MDA is encouraged by the input it receives, it could issue a request for proposals by year’s end, Matlock told reporters Aug. 17 after speaking at the Space and Missile Defense Conference here.

In fiscal year 2015, the agency awarded five contracts to companies to develop concepts for the demonstrator aircraft. The agency’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, which is pending before Congress, contains $24 million to award design contracts to two firms. MDA hopes to pick one contractor in 2018 to build the prototype, which might be unmanned. Flight tests would begin in FY 2020.

The demonstrator, whose “low power” laser would be roughly 100 kilowatts, is expected to determine the feasibility of destroying enemy missiles in their boost phase of flight, before they can deploy countermeasures. MDA has said that the effort is far smaller in scale than the agency’s now-canceled, multi-billion-dollar program to equip a Boeing [BA] 747 jumbo jet with a megawatt-class laser.

As part of MDA’s risk reduction activities in this area, two Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper unmanned planes detected and tracked a ballistic missile target during a test in the Pacific in late June. During the test, the target was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Hawaii. The Reapers took off from PMRF and flew several hundred kilometers off the coast of the island of Kauai.

The test was the first of its kind. MDA’s Advanced Technology Directorate will continue to assess the results and “observe other target launches as the opportunities arise,” MDA spokesman Christopher Johnson said.

Another laser initiative highlighted at the conference, the Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s (SMDC’s) High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) program, plans to switch from an Oshkosh [OSK] Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) to a smaller, more mobile Oshkosh Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) truck, and upgrade to a more powerful, longer range laser than the current 10-kilowatt device.

The Army expects to receive a new 50-kilowatt laser from Lockheed Martin [LMT] in 2017 and test it on a HEMTT in 2018 to reduce risk for a future 100-kilowatt, FMTV-based laser, said Julie Schumacher, deputy to the commander of SMDC/Army Forces Strategic Command. The Army plans to begin a competition for the FMTV-based system in FY 2017. The system will include a new beam control subsystem and be demonstrated in FY 2022.

HEL MD is designed to shoot down rockets, artillery, mortars and unmanned aircraft. The 10-kilowatt HEMTT system shot down mortar rounds and drones in 2014 tests.