The US military may soon have a new weapon system in its arsenal to help defend soldiers during convoys and troop movements. It is a high energy laser on an armored vehicle.
Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a company of Raytheon Technologies, has been awarded a $ 123 million contract for the Short Range Air Defense and Maneuvered Energy Weapons Systems, or DE M-SHORAD. The DE M-SHORAD weapon system provides protection for the maneuvering of land forces and equipment against threats such as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS; rotary wing aircraft; and rockets, artillery and mortars.
The prototype systems are being integrated into Stryker combat vehicles that the Army’s Office of Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies will deliver to a platoon-level action unit in 2022.
âThe US military is leading the charge to give soldiers the very first operational capability of a mobile high-energy laser weapon,â said Annabel Flores, vice president of electronic warfare systems at RI&S. âTwo years ago, the military set itself the goal of providing a powerful, maneuverable and proven laser system ready for immediate use by operators in the field, and our team demonstrated this capability. ”
RI&S is the main subcontractor to the prime contractor KBR / Kord Technologies and is the developer of the subsystem for the laser weapon module, the beam director assembly and the radar acquisition system for the laser system. ‘weapon OF M-SHORAD.
The award follows a US Army M-SHORAD exercise at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the summer of 2021. The subsystems developed by RI&S were evaluated in a series of realistic scenarios designed to assess the performance of the aircraft. prototype weapon system and demonstrate technical maturity and readiness. .
During the exercises, Soldiers used the system and effectively tracked, identified and engaged a variety of targets.
âIn just a few days, Soldiers have gone from training to operating the system and engaging targets to provide valuable feedback to our team that will help improve future systems,â said Flores.
Soldiers receive virtual and hands-on training
Stryker crews consisting of three soldiers each – a pilot, crew commander and laser shooter – trained in DE M-SHORAD simulators in which they could take virtual tours of the entire vehicle and the laser system. , and practice shooting at simulated targets.
âThey weren’t PowerPoint slides and technical manuals,â said Justin Martin, chief engineer for high-energy lasers at RI&S. “It was a very interactive training environment where they could immerse themselves in the vehicle and the laser design itself to really understand what was in the vehicle.”
The soldiers had to start from scratch, learning the basics of lasers, laser safety and how to use the new weapon system. They spent a week in the virtual environment before participating in real fire drills.
“They weren’t touching the controls or seeing anything that they hadn’t already virtually immersed themselves in before,” Martin said. “It helped that laser shooters could use a real video game controller to operate the weapon – something the young soldiers are very familiar with.”
The DE M-SHORAD weapon system combines a 50 kW class high energy laser, beam director, electro-optical / infrared target acquisition and tracking system and Ku720 multi-mission radar. This gives soldiers an effective counter-UAS system as well as counter-intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
âWe made a prototype combat,â said Martin. âWe have not only made a laser instrument for experimentation and research, but we have built a robust and well-integrated laser weapon on a Stryker combat vehicle for use by soldiers. There will be four of these Strykers. operationally ready for brigade combat teams.
The Stryker is an eight-wheeled armored vehicle designed to transport an infantry squad across roads and across country to the battlefield. The vehicle has been adapted for a wide variety of missions and can support a number of sets of mission equipment.
Previously, RI&S delivered three high-energy laser weapon systems, or HELWS, to the US Air Force. The systems were mounted on Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicles, accumulating over 9,000 hours during operator training and operational evaluation. High capacity batteries powered the Air Force 10kW class laser. The M-SHORAD 50 kW class laser is also powered by high capacity batteries which are charged by the Stryker’s diesel engine.
Increase laser power
To switch from a 10 kW class laser to a 50 kW class laser, RI&S needed more power. Instead of using four to six fiber laser amplifier modules for the 10 kW class laser, they used 20 to 25 modules for the 50 kW class version.
âSo the modules are great, sturdy building blocks that we literally add more to get the wattage needed, so there’s more fiber inside,â Martin said. “But the real trick is to align all these separate beams of light into a single beam of light that has the right characteristics for a laser weapon.”
A more powerful laser weapon translates into greater functionality, such as longer range and faster defeat abilities. The 50kW class laser can punch a hole through a small consumer drone in a flash while detonating or deflecting a mortar in seconds.
The Army will use the DE M-SHORAD to complement its fleet of kinetic M-SHORAD Strykers, said Evan Hunt, director of RI&S requirements and capabilities, high-energy lasers and counter-UAS.
âThe high-energy laser is really well suited to the growing asymmetric threats that we see with drones and rockets, artillery and mortars,â Hunt said. âLaser weapon technology is so compelling for air defense escort of convoys or troop movement missions because it has such a deep store. As long as the Stryker has diesel, it can engage. ”
During live fire exercises at Fort Sill, soldiers quickly learned to use the prototype system, demonstrating their proficiency in target acquisition, aiming point selection and engagements. According to Martin, the DE M-SHORAD crews were thrilled to be the first to test a brand new weapon.
âYou could see it in their faces after they sat in the seat and then defeated a drone by tapping their fingers,â he said. “They were bought out and ready to go ahead with more complex, more difficult engagements. Yeah, those laser gunners in the seat shooting down drone after drone, they were believers after that.”
The first operational prototype is used for characterization of the system and all lessons learned will be incorporated into this system and the three remaining operational prototypes under construction, all to be delivered as a platoon in 2022.
The RI&S High Energy Laser Team believes that after the US military begins operations with DE M-SHORAD during missions and exercises, the service will see that no other system can provide speed of light, a low cost per shot and almost unlimited magazine, and start rolling out the vehicles on a larger scale.