The Army is working overtime to slap two different 50-kilowatt laser weapons onto a pair of Stryker infantry fighting vehicles ahead of a shoot-off this coming spring, a major step forward for the service’s directed-energy ambitions.
The service announced last week that a “unique Army-industry team” is currently hard overtime in Huntsville, Alabama to outfit two of the armored vehicles with two distinct laser systems developed in a competition between defense contractors Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
Once the two systems are integrated into their respective Strykers, the two vehicles will go head-to-head in a laser weapon shoot-off at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, sometime “this spring,” according to the Army.
Designed to augment Stryker defenses against rockets, artillery, and mortars as well as unmanned aerial systems, the Army plans on fielding a platoon of four so-called Directed Energy-Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (DE-MSHORAD) systems to soldiers by fiscal year 2022.
During the shoot-off, the two systems will “go up against a series of 12 vignettes that will increase in difficulty,” according to the Army: “For example, there will be a mix of scenarios that could include UAS targets, RAM targets, or both … the realistic challenges to the prototypes will serve to establish threshold requirements for future DE-MSHORAD systems.”
“This is moving extremely fast,” Col. G. Scott McLeod, the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) program manager for DE-MSHORAD, said in a statement. “Everybody has done a great job of managing all of the technical complexity and challenges of getting these new components built and integrated so we can move to the shoot-off next year.”
The successful integration of a 50 kw laser weapon into a Stryker would represent a ten-fold power increase over the 5 kw-class system that U.S. artillery soldiers have been testing in Germany since early 2018.
The Army plans on standing up its first battalion of DE-MSHORAD Stryker vehicles some time in 2021, with plans on standing up a total of four battalions by 2023 — all of which would eventually field the final 50 kw laser weapon system selected by the service.
The DE-MSHORAD system isn’t the only laser weapon the Army is working on at the moment. As Task & Purpose previously reported, service is also working to field a 300 kw Indirect Fires Protection Capability – High Energy Laser (IFPC-HEL) truck-mounted laser by 2024.
While the 50 kw Stryker will deploy primarily to drones and incoming ordnance out of the sky, the 300 kw version IFPC-HEL system could potentially channel enough power to counter incoming cruise missiles.
“The time is now to get directed energy weapons to the battlefield,” Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood, director for Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, said in a statement accompanying the DE-MSHORAD contracts in 2019.
“The Army recognizes the need for directed energy lasers as part of the Army’s modernization plan. This is no longer a research effort or a demonstration effort. It is a strategic combat capability, and we are on the right path to get it in soldiers’ hands.”