US Army's new fridge-sized laser is called the 'Phantom'

Northrop Grumman has officially delivered a new lightweight, powerful, rugged laser to the U.S. military called the "Phantom."
Christopher McFadden
Northrop Grumman Phantom laser
Northrop Grumman Phantom laser

Northrop Grumman 

The United States government has just taken receipt of a new miniaturized "rugged" high-energy laser from Northrop Grumman. Called the "Phantom" the new laser package is small enough (200 lbs or 91 kg) to be lifted, carried, and installed by as few as two personnel. To this end, it has been designed for rapid placement in various tactical situations.

Tiny but potent

The diminutive high-energy laser package measures around 12 cubic feet (0.34 m3), making it roughly the size of a small fridge. Northrop Grumman reports that users of the new laser can integrate it into other subsystems for testing and delivery to military customers.

The military has been interested in lasers as a game-changing technology due to their ability to engage targets at the speed of light for a fraction of the cost of projectile weapons (per shot). Most of the focus has been on the power of the laser, how to target it, and how to control it over long distances. But, even if a laser weapon possesses immense power, if it is designed to be bulky and fragile and weigh multiple tonnes, it becomes practically unusable in most situations. Hence, a small, reliable, and rugged laser, like the "Phantom."

But that is only part of the problem; the lasers must also work. Lasers produce a beam of coherent light by emitting photons with the same frequency and in phase, preventing the waves' spreading and diffusing. The deployment of lasers in practical combat situations by the U.S. military has encountered challenges such as size, power requirements, and expensive costs since their earliest use during the Vietnam War.

Earlier this year, The Debrief reports, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the Pentagon spends nearly $1 billion annually on developing directed energy weapons, such as lasers, that provide advanced defense against unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), projectiles, and other threats.

“However, DOD has had trouble getting these technologies out of the lab and into the field for several reasons,” read a summary of the GAO report, which noted that one of the challenges the DOD faces included “determining how to use them in missions," the report added.

The report also states that currently, only the Army has a transition plan for the development of laser weapons, which includes scheduling and stakeholder roles. Aiming to help the military with directed energy weapon implementation, Northrop Grumman has developed high-energy lasers for the US armed forces.

The real "Phantom Menace"

These include the Strategic Illuminator Laser (SILL) and the 300kW High Energy Laser Weapon System (HELWS) designed to counter fast-moving threats like UAVs. The company aims to make its new "Phantom" a practical and accessible addition to the U.S. arsenal due to its compact size.

“By miniaturizing this advanced capability, we are expanding the reach of our technology and continuing to lead the way in high-energy lasers. Northrop Grumman is using its expertise in directed energy to deliver an extremely compact, lightweight, and efficient laser for the warfighter," explains Robert Fleming, vice president and general manager of strategic space systems at Northrop Grumman.

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