The US Army seems to be keen on laser weapons these days. Not only is it taking delivery of a record 60-kW laser weapon, but it's also mounted a weapon-grade Army laser on a combat vehicle for the first time. Earlier this month, the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (USASMDC/ARSTRAT) fielded a Stryker assault vehicle armed with a 5-kW laser as part of the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization (JIDO) UAS Hard-Kill Challenge at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

According to the Army, the Stryker was equipped with a Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser (MEHEL) 2.0 that is an improved version of the original MEHL 2-kW laser and includes anti-drone capabilities. During the exercise, which ran from February 27 to March 3, the vehicle was tasked with shooting down single and multiple Group 1 drones. That is, unmanned vehicles weighing under 20 lb (9 kg), flying to an altitude of over 1,200 ft (366 m) and at speeds of up to 100 knots (115 mph, 185 km/h). In this case, they consisted of a mix of fixed-wing and quadcopter vehicles.

The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate the current state of the technology and to highlight the limitations of the upgraded laser that will need addressing – especially in regard to the counter-unmanned aircraft system mobile integrated capability components.

"Getting everything integrated on the platform, being able to detect the target with the radar and then engage it with the high energy laser was very successful," says Adam Aberle, SMDC High Energy Laser Division Technology Development and Demonstration lead. "We learned the 5-kW laser was able to defeat the targets. We were able to verify and show that we could put a radar and a laser on a platform so it could self-cue to targets and that was very successful."

The Army hopes that once the laser technology matures, it will provide troops with additional protection against rockets, artillery, mortars, drones, and cruise missiles.