The US Army is advancing its plans to a directed-energy prototype system and a hypersonic weapon prototype within four years to enhance readiness.
The advancement will see the delivery of a hypersonic weapon prototype by fiscal year (FY) 2023, while the fielding of a directed-energy prototype system is expected to begin by FY 2022.
US Army hypersonics, directed energy, space, and rapid acquisition director lieutenant general Neil Thurgood stated that the service is accelerating the development and procurement of the multi-mission high energy laser (MMHEL) system.
The army will field the 50kW MMHEL system on a modified Stryker combat vehicle, with plans to deliver a four-vehicle battery to soldiers by late FY 2022. This will help enhance the army’s manoeuvre short-range air defence capabilities.
The new laser system is designed to protect combat personnel from threats such as unmanned aerial systems, rotary-wing aircraft, rockets, artillery, and mortars.
Thurgood added that the army will work cooperatively with other services and agencies to improve directed-energy technology.
The army is also working on a project to mount 100kW high-energy laser technology on a larger vehicle platform. Efforts are underway to exceed those power levels.
The hypersonic weapons project will involve fitting four modified heavy expanded mobility tactical trucks (HEMTTs) with a launcher.
According to the general, each combat vehicle will be equipped with two hypersonic weapon systems, totalling eight prototype rounds.
Thurgood said: “The word hypersonic has become synonymous with a particular type of missile. Generally, hypersonics means a missile that flies greater than Mach 5 … that is not on ballistic trajectory and manoeuvres.
“It is not long-range artillery. It’s a strategic weapon that will be used … for strategic outcomes.”
He further stated that the MMHEL and hypersonic systems will serve as an experimental prototype with a residual combat capability, allowing soldiers to use the eight rounds in combat if the need arises in a combat scenario.
The prototype system will serve as an opportunity for soldiers to learn and for the army to receive feedback to facilitate potential broader production of each system.
The contract process to enable the development of the prototype hypersonic systems has already started.
Last month, the military branch revealed that the first joint flight test of future hypersonic weapons will be performed next year.
The first test will be followed by further tests to be held once every six months until the weapon is fielded.