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Laser weapon systems are becoming more prevalent in the ground vehicle sphere. 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 US Army wants to employ laser technology developed by the Navy on ground systems.
The Army is pushing for upgraded laser systems as part of its modernization program, 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.
A senior army official, 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.” “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.
According to army-technology.com, the US 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. 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.
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.
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.