Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser (MTHEL)
Northrop Grumman [NOC] is the prime contractor for the MTHEL program in cooperation with the Israeli government.
MTHEL consists of three major subsystems: a command, control, communications and intelligence subsystem; a pointer-tracker subsystem; and the laser subsystem.
THEL was designed to defend against short-range rockets, such as the Russian-built Katyusha. However, as the Army and Israel began to evolve the static THEL into the mobile system, now called MTHEL, program officials said it would have an added capability against cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles in a combat scenario.
The MTHEL program is a joint development program with the Israeli government. The initial static THEL was developed under an advanced concept technology development program to solely defend Israel from the threat of Russian-made Katyusha rockets. As the program proceeded, both Israel and the United States decided there would be more benefit from a smaller, more mobile that have evolved into the MTHEL program.
After years of grappling with funding shortfalls, the joint U.S.-Israeli program to develop a high energy laser system to protect troops in the field from short range rockets has been embraced by the Army and included in its outyear budget plan. This mobile variant of the system evolved from the initial static Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) program, a joint U.S.-Israeli advanced concept demonstration program started in 1996. The initial THEL was built as a joint U.S.-Israeli program solely to meet Israel’s requirements against Katyushas. Because of the changing threat in Israel, Army and Israeli officials decided it would be best for Israel to wait for a mobile variant of the system. As currently envisioned, the MTHEL would be significantly smaller than the standard THEL and easily transported on a C-130 airlifter. Under the current plan, an MTHEL demonstrator will be completed in the 2006-07 time frame. Meanwhile, the static THEL system, located at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., has proved highly successful in tests, intercepting and destroying 26 122mm Katyusha rockets in 2000 and 2001 and four 152 mm artillery projectiles in late 2002. While the program in the past survived solely on congressional plus-ups to the annual budget request, the Army budget plan should give it more stability. That budget plan at this time includes: $3.5 million in FY ’03, $40 million in FY ’04, $40 million in FY ’05, $25 million in FY ’06 and $10 million in FY ’07. Also, Army Space and Missile Defense Command recently transitioned MTHEL to the Army’s Program Executive Office for Air and Missile Defense. The move is expected to give the program increased stability and a higher profile beyond just a test effort. MTHEL late last year in a test at White Sands for the first time destroyed an artillery projectile in flight. The artillery testing is part of a new series to determine MTHEL’s capabilities against a variety of new target sets. Over the next year, the class of target sets is to expand to possibly include unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missile type targets.