December 23, 2013
Able to shoot for as long as power is available, electric laser weapons are an answer to threats like simple rockets and swarming boats that can overcome conventional defenses with limited magazines of cannon shells or interceptor missiles. But lasers need more power, efficiency and mobility to become practical weapons.
Lockheed Martin is to deliver a 60-kw ruggedized laser that will enable the U.S. Army and Boeing to demonstrate the lethal potential of the truck-mounted High-Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) in 2017, on the path to a 100-kw version planned to be tested by 2022.
The HEL MD shot down 60-mm mortar rounds and tactical unmanned aircraft using a 10-kw off-the-shelf industrial laser during six weeks of testing at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., that ended Dec. 12. This followed low-power testing with a surrogate laser in 2011.
Although the latest tests were successful, the short effective ranges and long lasing times required to disable targets mean a 10-kw laser is not militarily useful, says Terry Bauer, HEL PM program manager at Army Space and Missile Defense Command. The 60-kw laser from Lockheed “is what makes HEL MD feasible,” he says.
The higher-power laser is being developed by Lockheed company Aculight under the Pentagon's Reliable Electric Laser (RELI) program, a follow-on to the Joint High-Power Solid-State Laser (Jhpssl) program, under which Northrop Grumman in 2009 demonstrated the first electric laser to exceed 100 kw.
The goal of RELI is to develop more-efficient, compact and ruggedized high-power lasers that can be used in weapon systems. Aculight uses spectral beam combining to optically merge the beams from many fiber lasers, which are more efficient and compact than the diode lasers used in Jhpssl.
In late August, the Army announced its intent to award Lockheed a $23.8 million contract to deliver a 60-kw ruggedized laser module for integration into the HEL MD. Based on the 25-kw RELI laboratory laser, the system will combine additional 2-kw fiber laser modules to achieve the higher power.