High energy laser weapons are a hot area of research with companies including Lockheed Martin, Rheinmetall and Northrop Grumman all developing systems. Boeing is also in the mix with its High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), which is being put through its paces by the US Army. Between November 18 and December 10, the HEL MD successfully took out mortar rounds and UAVs in flight, marking a first for the vehicle-mounted system.

The recent tests, which took place at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, followed on from low- and medium-power test demonstrations conducted in 2011. These latest tests were the first full demonstration of the HEL MD in a configuration that included the laser and beam director mounted in the vehicle. A surrogate radar, the Enhanced Multi Mode Radar, provided support by queuing the laser.

Intended to demonstrate the potential of directed-energy technology for protecting troops against rockets, artillery and mortars (RAM), as well as UAVs and cruise missiles, the multiple test events saw the HEL MD successfully engage over 90 mortar rounds and several UAVs. Army officials say mortars and UAVs are representative of the threats faced by US and allied forces in the battlefield.

The tests involved a 10-kW class laser, however, this will be replaced by a 50-kW laser in the future before that is in turn upgraded to a 100-kW class laser for subsequent demonstrations. Supporting thermal and power subsystems will also be upgraded to meet the needs of the increasingly powerful solid-state lasers, which officials say will increase the effective range of the laser and decrease the amount of time the laser will need to stay on target.

Source: US Army