With every U.S. military service develop- ing battlefield lasers, the technology is poised to deliver on a decades-old prom- ise of a relatively inexpensive weapon
with unprecedented precision. Laser weapons will serve
multiple purposes, from shooting down unmanned
aerial vehicles, missiles, mortars and rockets to interfering with electronics and sensors.
Furthermore, they can be adjusted
from merely disruptive to deadly.
Various programs across the Defense
Department indicate that laser technology could yield
benefits from land, air and sea. For example, with the
High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD)
program, Army officials intend to demonstrate a
100-kilowatt laser on a tactical vehicle by 2022. The
Marine Corps plans a similar ground-based system. The
U.S. Air Force intends to demonstrate laser weapons
on fighter jets in the same time frame. The Air Force
Research Laboratory (AFRL) is teaming with the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop the High
Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System, which is
touted as being smaller and lighter than similar tactical
lasers. Air Force Special Operations Command officials
want a laser cannon for the AC-130 gunship, and the Air
Force is exploring ultra-short pulse laser (USPL) technol-
ogy for its potentially disruptive effects. The Navy, mean-
while, already has integrated a Laser Weapon System pro-
totype onto the USS Ponce, which now serves as a floating
test bed and proof-of-concept vessel.
Richard DeFatta, director of the U.S. Army Space and
Missile Defense Command’s Air and Missile Defense
Directorate, says that for the Army, the time is right for
laser armament. “It’s very significant from the Army perspective. With lasers, you’d be providing the commander
on the ground a weapon that’s very flexible, and it’s an
inexpensive match for threat systems,” DeFatta says.
Officials from multiple services tout the cost savings laser weapons could provide. Navy officials estimate the Laser Weapon System costs less than $1 per
shot. DeFatta equates HEL MD’s costs to the price of
fuel powering the laser platform. “An objective with a
CUT TING-EDGE WEAPONS
Beam technology transitions from
science fiction to battlefield realms.
BY GEORGE I.