Killer Lasers One Step Closer









The Army is continuing to invest in a capability that, if successful, would allow soldiers to blast rockets, mortars, and enemy drones out of the sky with a directed energy beam.

The typically unwieldy-sounding High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator Phase II High-Power Testing program (HEL MD) being run by the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command awarded Boeing a three-year follow-on contract on Oct. 3 to incorporate a 10-kilowatt, solid-state laser with the HEL MD system, while keeping alive the option to swap in a more powerful laser at a later date.

A release from Boeing said that the industry/Army team will run field tests of the HEL MD system using the high-power, solid-state laser during the next year, to evaluate the system’s “ability to acquire, track, damage and defeat threat-representative targets.”

It’s hardly a new program — we wrote up the program back in May, when Blaine Beardsley, HEL MD program manager at Boeing told us that the company finished integration testing with a low-energy demonstrator on an Oshkosh HEMTT A4 vehicle in the summer of 2011, and that the program has passed low-power testing in the fall and winter:

The system was “very successful in acquiring and tracking the object and putting the beam on it,” he said, adding that the next step involves the Army awarding the high-power beam follow-on contract sometime this summer or fall, which would lead to field testing in 2013.

Since the laser is mobile, “you can drive it out to any location and emplace it quickly and be able to set it up with full 360-degree coverage,” Beardsley said. The HEL MD was able to detect and track 60mm and 120mm mortars in testing last winter, and since it relies on electrical power to produce lethal effects, “even while you’re utilizing the magazine and engaging targets, you’re charging that magazine.” In other words, as long as it has electricity, it can fire.

(Pic courtesy of Boeing shows the laser on the back of a utility truck)

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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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