The US Army wants to employ laser technology developed by the US Navy on ground systems, according to a senior army official.
Speaking at the Association of the United States Army Institute of Land Warfare breakfast on Tuesday, the principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the army for acquisition, logistics and technology and director of the Army Acquisition Corps Lieutenant General Paul Ostrowski said: “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 100kW up to maybe the 250k mark.”
The US Army is pushing for upgraded laser systems as part of its modernisation programme, in particular for systems designed to deal with aerial attacks from enemy aircraft and drone swarms without the need for expensive munitions.
Current army laser systems use a Dynetics 100kW high energy laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator (HEL TVD) developed with Lockheed Martin. The systems are fitted on medium-sized vehicles for manoeuvrability but more powerful lasers could be fitted on larger systems.
Ostrowski added: “This is the… system that is meant to guard and provide air missile support to our operating bases… and airfields”
The HEL TVD is limited by its size which allows it to be movable but not easily ‘manoeuvrable’, making it better suited to defending fixed sites.
The army is also developing lower-powered lasers for deployment on the General Dynamics Stryker armoured vehicle platform. The vehicles will carry a 50kW multi-mission high energy laser (MMHEL) system for short-range air defence. Ostrowski said: “The intent is to field a platoon of four vehicles by 2022”.
One of the advantages of using laser systems is that ammunition is only limited by the power source, not the size and cost of munitions. Current air defence missiles are often far more expensive than their targets.
The army is also looking to use lasers for other purposes, including explosive ordnance disposal (EOD); this would see laser systems fitted onto tanks to allow them to counter a wider range of threats.
Ostrowski added: Rocket artillery, mortar and UAS [unmanned aerial systems] is just the beginning of where we see lasers going in the future.”
The army intends to integrate the navy’s laser systems around 2023, however it may not be possible to fully utilise it. Before it can use a system with double the power of those currently in development, the army will need to develop support systems capable of operating these higher-powered naval lasers.
“If you don’t have the power, you don’t have that unlimited magazine,” Ostrowski explained. “And that unlimited magazine makes a difference in this swarm environment where you have multiple targets. You have to be able to recharge quickly and be able to shoot them all down.”
Ostrowski also discussed modernisation efforts across the US military, saying the armed forces had prioritised ‘readiness’ due to being involved in active combat for the past 18 years. He added: “The fact that we have not been able to modernize has been detrimental across the board, and especially with respect to being able to maintain over-match [be stronger].”
The US Navy is planning to deploy Lockheed Martin’s HELIOS laser on destroyers by 2021 after a testing period where the weapon was successfully used to target and take down drones.