US Army fields first combat-capable laser weapon prototype
The US Army has fielded its first combat-capable laser weapon prototype. Developed in only 24 months, the solid-state Directed Energy-Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (DE M-SHORAD) laser was mounted on a Stryker combat vehicle and participated at a combat shoot-off at Fort Sill, Oklahoma as an Army maneuver element for the first time.
With their practically unlimited ammunition costing about a dollar a round combined with the ability to strike distant targets at the speed of light, laser weapons are a very attractive option for war planners. However, don't expect to see soldiers marching across battlefields with ray guns unless the laws of physics get repealed. Instead, the US Army and others are looking to lasers that can be mounted on mobile platforms to act as stand-off defenses against threats like drones, rockets, artillery, and mortars.
Prototype laser weapons are already in service with the US Navy and now the weapon systems and power supplies have shrunk to the point where combat prototypes can be installed in ground vehicles like the Stryker.
As part of the Army's Multi-Domain Operations to modernize missile and air defenses, the new laser system is the product of the US Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), the Air and Missile Defense Cross Functional Team, Fires Center of Excellence, and the US Army Test and Evaluation Command and was deployed recently in the DE M-SHORAD Combat Shoot-Off.
During the Combat Shoot-off, the Stryker team was put through scenarios involving realistic threats to evaluate the system and find ways to improve future versions. The soldiers involved used immersive technology to learn how to use the DE M-SHORAD system, which they mastered in only days to the point where they could carry out target acquisition, aim point selection, and engagements.
During the exercise, the soldiers recommended replacing the standard controller with commercial gaming controllers. In addition, they used a handheld display that provided 3D walk-through models of the Stryker to augment online training manuals and interactive modules.
“This is a prototype and we are going to learn from this,” says Lieutenant General L. Neil Thurgood, Director for Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition. “We needed this to do two things: design it so it is safe enough to give to soldiers and make sure it engages with the target it needed to. The science project in this technology is over. It’s time to give our soldiers this first-ever operational capability.”
The next phase of the program will see the RCCTO deliver four laser-equipped Strykers in 2022.
Source: US Army