Army Eyeing Navy's High-Powered Laser to Fight Enemy Drone Swarms

Artist’s rendition of Lockheed’s 100 high-energy laser. (Image: Lockheed-Martin)
Artist’s rendition of Lockheed’s 100 high-energy laser. (Image: Lockheed-Martin)

Army modernization officials are getting help from the Navy to make the service's High Energy Laser program more than twice as powerful for fending off aerial attacks from swarms of enemy drones.

Currently, the Army's High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator (HEL TVD) features a 100-kilowatt laser designed to fit on Family of Medium Tactical Vehicle (FMTV) trucks. The service plans to conduct a demonstration of the system's target acquisition, tracking and other capabilities against a range of targets in 2022.

Meanwhile, the Army's Rapid Capabilities Office plans to take advantage of the Navy's 250-kilowatt laser program, a system that could be adapted to fit on the FMTV platform, Army Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski told an audience Tuesday at an Association of the United States Army Institute of Land Warfare breakfast.

"The intent is to work with the Navy, and we are doing that right now, in order to increase the power of that laser system from beyond 100-kilowatt up to maybe the 250-kilowatt mark," said Ostrowski, the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.

The Army's 100-kilowatt HEL TVD is being designed to provide air and missile support to forward operating bases and airfields, Ostrowski said. The service also plans to field a platoon of four 50-kilowatt lasers, known as Maneuver Short Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD) that will be mounted on a Stryker combat vehicle in fiscal 2022.

The advantage of the laser is having an "unlimited magazine" for unmanned aerial systems, as well as rockets, artillery and mortars, instead of "shooting $100,000 missiles at $7,000" unmanned aerial systems, Ostrowski said, adding that the Army hopes to expand the potential use of lasers on the battlefield beyond air defense.

"We want to be able to put that capability on our tanks to potentially get after targets that our combat vehicles can go after, so this is just the beginning ... of where we see lasers going in the future," he said.

One of the challenges of working with lasers, Ostrowski said, is controlling the heat buildup generated by the power source.

"It's not just the ability to create the energy to fire the laser, but it's also to dissipate the heat," he said.

It's still uncertain whether the Navy's 250-kilowatt laser program will work for the Army, but "we are not going to ignore" its potential for dealing with more complex enemy air attacks, Ostrowski said.

"The power piece is extremely important. If you don't have the power, you don't have that unlimited magazine, and that unlimited magazine makes a difference in a swarm environment where you have multiple targets and you have to be able to ... recharge quickly and be able to shoot them all down," he said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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