This Stryker-mounted high-energy laser can take down large drones and mortars

Drones can't take the heat.
Loukia Papadopoulos

In a press release published on Monday, Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, and Kord, a wholly owned subsidiary of KBR, describe a new weapon that could revolutionize warfare. The novel Stryker-mounted high-energy laser has, in four weeks of continuous live-fire exercises, defeated multiple 2.3 inch (60 mm) mortar rounds and several, small, medium and large drones.

The new weapon system is part of the U.S. Army's Directed Energy Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense, or DE M-SHORAD.

Dealing with increasingly complex threats

"Soldiers in the field face increasingly complex threats, and our combat-proven sensors, software, and lasers are ready to give them a new level of protection," said Annabel Flores, president of Electronic Warfare Systems for Raytheon Intelligence & Space. "The Army gave us our toughest challenge yet — countering rockets, artillery and mortars — and we took an essential step on the path to providing the maneuverable, short range air defense Soldiers need."

The military has a vested interest in developing weapons that can protect forces as they move on the ground, but has consistently failed to do so effectively. This is because thwarting drones, rockets, artillery, or mortar attacks from reaching troops on land and their accompanying vehicles and bases requires a system that can detect and plot the incoming attacks to know where to hit them to avoid them ever reaching their intended targets.

Until now... The DE M-SHORAD effort is particularly equipped to protect soldiers against various aerial threats, "including unmanned aircraft systems, rotary-wing aircraft, rockets, artillery and mortars." Its production saw the joining of two companies: Kord serving as the primary integrator of the system on the Stryker combat vehicle, while Raytheon Intelligence & Space provided the 50kW-class high energy laser weapon module, a specialized radar acquisition system, a beam control system, and targeting sensor.

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The new weapon works just as well on land as it does in the air and at sea. This enables it to secure a 360-degree coverage that can protect bases, airports, stadiums, and other high-value military or civilian assets. The system can also be used as a standalone system or easily incorporated on various platforms. 

The answer to asymmetric threats like drones and mortars

"This team once again showed that the HEL system is fully-integrated and ready to provide protection against complex threats," said Byron Bright, President of KBR Government Solutions. "With an effectively infinite magazine and near-zero cost per shot, HEL is now the proven answer to asymmetric threats like drones and mortars."

Four DE M-SHORAD units will now be delivered to Army Brigade Combat Teams in 2022. Laser systems are the optimum in military protection, but they do take a lot of work and effort to develop correctly.

Engineers must guarantee that the beam is powerful enough to burn through its targets swiftly and effectively, and must also ensure the weapons are equipped with sensors that can spot and track incoming targets. However,  laser systems do offer lower costs per firing since they use electrical power instead of bullets.

This latest addition to the combat teams is bound to save some money while effectively protecting the armed forces. In a similar initiative, the Pentagon, earlier this month, tested a high-power microwave technology called The Epirus system that has the capacity to disable several drones at once.

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