AI News, U.S. Military Wants Laser-Armed Humvees to Shoot Down Drones

U.S. Military Wants Laser-Armed Humvees to Shoot Down Drones

Laser weapons mounted aboard U.S. Navy ships and large trucks have already shown the power to shoot down flying drones during test trials.

That early success has encouraged the U.S. military to fund a new effort to develop smaller versions of these anti-drone weapons that can fit light ground vehicles such as the military Humvee.

The latest project by theU.S.Office of Naval Research aims to develop a30-kilowatt laser system for military vehicles that could be ready for field testing in 2016—a huge step after years of efforts to build smaller military lasers.

'We're confident we can bring together all of these pieces in a package that's small enough to be carried on light tactical vehicles and powerful enough to counter these threats,' said Brigadier General Kevin Killea, vice chief of naval research and commanding general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, in a press release.

Such a weapon would ideally have the ability to fire at full power for two minutes, followed by 20 minutes of recharging so its power source can reach an 80-percent state of charge.

Laser weapons developers 'riding the wave' created by Tesla, other battery innovators

Advances made in automotive battery technology by Tesla and others are now being borrowed to help the Pentagon get high-power laser weapons that can kill everything from enemy drones to missiles.

It allows lasers to achieve significant bursts of energy very quickly for incinerating enemy targets, just as a Tesla Model S driver could accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a matter of a few seconds.

Some experts credit Tesla for helping bring a revolution in electric cars and lithium-ion battery technology, while also driving down battery costs and expanding the power storage market beyond cars.

At long last, laser weapons are nearing deployment

But it was not until the invention of the laser in 1960 that the true potential of that concept led to serious research programs, which led quickly to major size, weight, and power (SWaP) limitations.

In the decades that followed the construction of the first laser prototype at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, Calif., numerous types of lasers have been developed, based on a variety of power sources and light generation materials, for a wide breadth of applications ranging from barcode scanners to cutting and welding in manufacturing, light shows, DNA sequencing, optical communications, laser printers, and surgery.

Designed to shoot down tactical ballistic missiles during their boost phase, it first was test-fired at an airborne target in January 2010 and soon after intercepted three test missiles, destroying two of them.

'A principal objective of the HEL JTO is to ensure and facilitate the development of HEL technologies to apply across the services and MDA [Missile Defense Agency], then provide avenues to encourage the sharing of information to make sure we are not duplicating efforts across the services or agencies,' says Adam Aberle, HEL technology and development demonstration lead at the Army Space

'The test truck integrates a high-power laser, beam control system, command and control system, power for the laser, and a thermal system to control the heat - all on the HEMTT.'

Army officials say the tests exceeded the contract threshold for success and, with the addition of three more channels planned before delivery, power will exceed the 60-kilowatt program objective.

'Currently, we are using solid-state lasers - specifically combinable fiber lasers that can be ganged together to create a single beam coming out of a beam director.

During the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) last April at Fort Sill, Okla., an Army specialist with no prior experience with the system became the first soldier to shoot down a UAV - approximately 18-by-10 inches in size - at 600 meters with a laser, the 5-kilowatt Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser (MEHEL) mounted on a Stryker armored vehicle.

'In the last 10 years, we have gone from systems that were less than 10 percent efficient to our 60-kilowatt, that is greater than 40 percent efficient - that is, transferring electrical energy going into the laser into photon energy coming out of the laser.

ONR describes LaWS as a low-power prototype never intended to be a deployed weapon, but the Naval Sea Systems Command took it when ONR had completed its tests, upgraded it - including linking its targeting system to radar tracks from an MK15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System - installed the resulting 30-kilowatt, solid-state XN-1 laser on the USS Ponce, deployed in the Persian Gulf, and, following some on-board tests, declared it operational.

Still installed on USS Ponce today, LaWS has provided the Navy - and the directed energy community writ large - with lessons that will inform future iterations of laser weapons,' Yingling says.

'LaWS exceeded all operational requirements and provided valuable lessons in atmospheric propagation of lasers, performance and reliability of a laser system in a maritime environment, integration of laser weapons within existing combat systems architectures, laser safety and airspace deconfliction, tactical employment of lasers, lethality against air and surface targets, and much more.'

'As the Navy continues to develop laser weapons, there may come a time when they can fully subsume the role currently provided by short- and medium-range interceptor missiles and gun systems.

Until such a time as the tactics and capabilities of our laser weapons are proven for the longer term, laser weapons will continue to complement existing weaponry on currently fielded platforms,' Yingling adds.

'Additionally, laser weapons have the potential to augment maritime domain awareness, improving the overall capabilities of our afloat platforms even when not using them for a high energy laser engagement.'

'A capability such as this allows us to stay in front of HEL weapon lethality testing, modeling, and simulation to support the current and growing number of Navy laser weapon programs,' notes Christopher Lloyd, NSWCDD's HEL Lethality lead.

'As we continue to develop and deploy laser weapons to the fleet with the inherent advantages of directed energy - speed-of-light delivery, engagement precision, magazine depth, and scalable effects - our warfighters will have a significant technological advantage over our adversaries,' Weekes says.

The Navy's program executive office for integrated warfare systems (PEO IWS) is working with industry to develop and field a laser weapon system for installation onboard a late-model Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the shortest time possible through a full and open competition, says a spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).

'For the United States, decades of technology investments in directed energy weapons - lasers, railguns, and high-power microwave - are finally nearing the point of providing next-generation capabilities over potential enemies,' Fisher told Congress.

'Effective early defensive laser weapons plus defensive-offensive railguns could be deployed in the early 2020s, while multi-platform, high-power but compact laser weapons could be realized in the 2030s.

As such, it is imperative that the United States redouble its focus to achieve technology breakthroughs needed to realize decisive energy weapon capabilities and be ready to cooperate with critical allies to accelerate co-developments.

That will include looking at threats, development plans, and concepts of operations, evaluating the current state-of-the-art in laser technology and assessing the advancements necessary to meet service and warfighter needs, Heithold said in an interview with the Institute for Defense

The potential to field operational directed energy weapons is exciting and the Department plans to continue to making investments in this area, [although] the overall programmatic organization of the Department's laser development is still TBD,' Heithold said.

William Moran, vice chief of naval operations, at the 2016 Directed Energy Summit, said the Navy is 'fully committed' to lasers and other directed-energy weapons to deal with emerging threats, but added the technology must be pushed forward faster than previous fieldings of new capabilities.

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