Lockheed to deliver HEL aerial defense laser by 2025 under new US Army contract

Lockheed Martin has secured $154 million of a promised $221 million to design and build a high-energy laser aerial defense system for the United States Army.
Christopher McFadden
A prototype is expected sometime in 2025.

Lockheed Martin 

The United States Army has announced that it awarded Lockheed Martin $220.8 million to develop, integrate, manufacture, test, and deliver” an Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High Energy Laser (IFPC-HEL) prototype weapon system. The new high-energy laser system will protect fixed and semi-fixed sites from aerial threats like drones, missiles, etc. But, Lockheed Martin has not received all these funds yet, with only $154 million available for 2023 fiscal funding.

Laser aerial defense

The remaining funds will be provided to Lockheed between now and around the middle of October 2025, Breaking Defense reports. Lockheed has reportedly been working on high-energy laser projects, like a 300-kilowatt, under Pentagon’s High Energy Laser Scaling Initiative (HELSI). However, as Breaking Defense points out, there is very little information on the prototype Lockheed will build under this new agreement for the Army.

However, Lockheed Martin points out that its "HELSI laser will support demonstration efforts with the Army’s IFPC-HEL, which is scheduled for laboratory and field testing this year."

"Lockheed Martin’s 300 kW-class high-energy laser design and build were enabled by significant investments in directed energy technology and the contributions of the company’s dedicated team in Washington state and Owego, New York. The team is applying more than 40 years of experience researching, designing, developing, and capturing electromagnetic energy and elevating its power to create innovative 21st-century security solutions," Lockheed adds.

In March, the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) of the Army requested white papers from the industry for lasers in the 100-plus kilowatt class and provided more information about their program plans. “IFPC-HEL is intended to protect fixed and semi-fixed sites from cruise missiles, rockets, artillery, and mortars; unmanned aerial systems; and rotary and fixed-wing threats,” the service wrote then.

“This effort will provide up to four complete HEL weapon systems (e.g., HEL, beam control, beam director, battle management, and power and thermal management), integrated onto a government-furnished property platform,” it added. “The HEL weapon systems must be delivered no later than 20 months after award," it said.

Coming in 2025

If successful, those HEL weapon systems will be used on live fire testing against “operationally relevant targets,” the Army wrote. According to the FY24 budget request documents, the service plans to transfer IFPC-HEL work and the development of a future IFPC-high-powered microwave from RCCTO to a new team by 2025.

“The IFPC Inc 2 product office will establish an initial IFPC direct energy team to coordinate the transfer of responsibility, as well as determine IFPC Inc 2 product office requirements for these products starting in FY23,” the Army explained. “Current planning assumes the products will require additional development, integration with the [Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense] AIAMD architecture, and testing," the Army added.

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