The U.S. Army is set to add a laser weapon system to its arsenal as it looks to strengthen its defense against unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Raytheon Intelligence & Space (RI&S), a defense contractor, has confirmed that it has received a $123 million contract for manufacturing such a defense system that will be delivered in the next year.
Directed-energy weapon systems have garnered much interest in the defense sector due to their ability to counter a wide spectrum of threats ranging from drones to artillery, mortars, and rockets with low-cost and almost unlimited ammunition that can be fired at will. The U.S. military has been looking for a portable weapon system that it can integrate rapidly into its arsenal and deploy at short notice.
Towards this end, it has been trialing the Directed Energy-Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (DE M-SHORAD) system for a while now and even conducted a combat stand-off with some prototypes in August this year.
Prior to the standoff, the crew consisting of a driver, crew commander, and laser gunner were provided intensive training on all aspects of the weapon system, the press release said. Instead of manuals and presentations, the crew was provided with a virtual learning environment where they learned the basics about lasers, how they operate, the design of the laser on the weapon, laser associated safety measures and it operates in the system.
RI&S has integrated the system consisting of the 50-kW class high energy laser, beam director, target acquisition, and tracking system using electro-optic and infrared inputs as well as a Ku720 multi-mission radar onto a Stryker combat vehicle. The 50-kW laser can make holes in a consumer drone in a flash and deflect a mortar within seconds, the press release said. It is powered by high-capacity batteries that are charged by Stryker's diesel engine, allowing it to remain functional as long as the vehicle has fuel.
"We made a combat prototype," Justin Martin, chief engineer for High-Energy Lasers at RI&S said characterizing the weapon system. "We didn’t just make a laser instrument for experimentation and research, but we built a well-integrated, robust laser weapon on a Stryker combat vehicle to be operated by soldiers." As the system enters deployment, lessons learned from the field will be incorporated into the prototypes that are being built. However, the U.S. Army is set to receive four such systems in the next year itself.
In addition to this, the U.S. Army has also contracted General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems to make its biggest, 300-kW class high energy laser weapon system as well.