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US Army will test its most powerful laser weapon ever next year


29 October 2021
David Hambling

Lasers are currently used to shoot down small drones, but a more powerful weapon could take on larger targets

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An artist’s impression of the new laser weapon
General Atomics

The US Army is planning to demonstrate a 300-kilowatt laser weapon, its most powerful ever, next year. General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) and Boeing are building the device, which is the size of a shipping container and mounted on a heavy truck.

The high power, compact laser weapon… will produce a lethal output greater than anything fielded to date,” Scott Forney, president of GA-EMS, said in a statement.

The US Navy deployed the first high-energy laser weapon, known as LaWS, on the USS Ponce in 2014, with a reported 30 kilowatt output. Most military lasers tend to be in the 30 to 100 kilowatt range, which is mainly useful for shooting down small drones, so the new weapon is a significant increase.

Typically such weapons are based on multiple industrial fibre lasers, with the output combined into a single beam. The new weapon instead uses large slabs of glass connected in series. Such slabs have previously been hard to use due to waste heat and issues with beam quality, but GA-EMS says connecting them in series solves these issues and removes the need to combine beams from multiple fibre lasers.

The new laser is part of a US Army project to develop defensive lasers that can shoot down incoming threats. Last year it demonstrated a 10-kilowatt laser defeating small mortar rounds.

Justin Bronk at UK security think tank Royal United Services Institute says the more powerful laser can take on bigger targets as well as engaging multiple targets in quick succession.

It will allow the system to engage a greater density of incoming threats, and also potentially engage threats which offer a shorter engagement window either due to speed or very low altitude flight trajectory,” says Bronk.

This might allow the laser to defend against ballistic and cruise missiles as well as drones, aircraft and helicopters, he says.
 

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December 13, 2021
Rebecca Hoag



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Naval Postgraduate School faculty and students use the university’s High-Energy Laser Beam Control Research Testbed to explore how the latest advances in adaptive optics and artificial intelligence can be utilized to improve the effectiveness of the Navy’s laser weapons systems.


A high-energy laser beam pointed over the ocean will get distorted by the atmosphere and marine layer, reducing its effectiveness in long-range defensive applications, particularly when the target is at a low elevation.

You can think of the atmosphere as a changing medium due to temperature variations,” explains Dr. Jae Jun Kim, a Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Research Associate Professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) department.

Researchers at NPS are using every tool at their disposal to reduce atmosphere-induced aberrations, or “clean” the laser beam, so it has a chance to reach a target farther away in a deep turbulence environment.

The multidisciplinary team, under the direction of Dr. Brij Agrawal, NPS Distinguished Professor in MAE, and Kim successfully completed the development of a $3 million High-Energy Laser Beam Control Research Testbed (HBCRT) in 2016. The group is made up of NPS researchers and students with assistance from non-NPS researchers from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Lockheed Martin, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Dahlgren.

The research project is supported by the DOD’s Joint Directed Energy Transition Office (DE-JTO), the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The HBCRT consists of Acquisition, Tracking, Pointing (ATP), and adaptive optics systems. The testbed is similar to the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) currently used in the Navy’s USS Ponce. After many months of delays, the team finally received the highly anticipated, half-a-million dollar deformable mirror from Northrop Grumman to further their deep turbulence adaptive optics research. The mirror represents the state-of-the-art in adaptive optics, with a two-inch diameter mirror and hundreds of actuators. Upon successful testing of deep turbulence compensation, the deforable mirror will be integrated into the HBCRT.

As deformable implies, you can change the shape of the mirror using actuators attached to the back of the mirror to compensate for laser beam aberration,” Agrawal explains.

This deformable mirror is used in conjunction with two other deformable mirrors in a Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics (MCAO) configuration. Dr. Bautista Fernandez has developed a graphical user interface (GUI) for controlling the deformable mirror.

When you have no aberrations on the system, you have a flat wavefront,” Fernandez says. “As soon as you have an aberration, the wavefront distorts.”

Once an aberration is spotted, Fernandez adjusts the channels using his GUI, which is basically a grid representing the different actuators. By clicking on a spot in the grid, he can adjust a channel by applying some voltage to it.

In the lab, the team uses eye-safe visible light to test the lasers, but in the field, tests would be conducted using infrared.

The team is also working on incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) technology for automatic target detection, classification, aimpoint selection and maintenance. This project is also funded by DE-JTO.

The team consists of NPS (principal investigator), Lockheed Martin, Air Force Research Laboratory, and NSWC-Dahlgren. Traditionally, aimpoint has been executed in the past by human operators. Current AI work can select the aimpoint of a single target faster than a human can. The AI techniques are being implemented into the HBCRT and will be compared with traditional approaches.

To achieve higher accuracy results with the AI techniques, a large training dataset consisting of realistic target images is required. The team has developed a dataset with 3D-printed titanium unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) models. UAV images are captured by the HBCRT at varying orientations.

Dr. Leonardo Herrara, a National Research Council (NRC) Postdoctoral Associate, is developing these UAV images. He has created about 40,000 images with the testbed so far.

Continuing the AI theme, three Navy master’s students designed their theses around applying AI techniques for high-energy laser beam control. The team is also working on predicting atmospheric turbulence and the correction of target image aberrations using AI.

We are also excited about using AI for correcting abberations in the target image because conventional adaptive optics requires very complex optics systems like additional lasers, sensors, very fast cameras, and complex mathematical algorithms to determine the distortion in the wavefront,” Kim says. “We’re trying to use this AI technology, so instead of using the beacon light, why don’t we try to use the actual image of the target to determine the distortion?”

It’s a potential direction for the team for a future project. For now, their two AI projects and working towards connecting the distorted mirror to the testbed keep them busy enough.​
 

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USS Portland Tests High Energy Laser Weapon System in Gulf of Aden


December 15, 2021
5th Fleet Public Affairs - NAVCENT



MANAMA, Bahrain --
Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) conducted a high-energy laser weapon system demonstration, Dec. 14, while sailing in the Gulf of Aden.


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Amphibious transport dock USS Portland (LPD 27) transits the Gulf of Aden, Dec. 13, with a Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation Laser Weapons System Demonstrator Mark 2 MOD 0 on board. The Office of Naval Research selected Portland to host the laser weapon technology in 2018. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin Kates)

During the demonstration, the Solid State Laser - Technology Maturation Laser Weapons System Demonstrator (LWSD) Mark 2 MOD 0 aboard Portland successfully engaged a static surface training target. Portland previously tested the LWSD in May 2020 when it successfully disabled a small unmanned aerial system while operating in the Pacific Ocean.


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Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) lowers a static surface training target into the Gulf of Aden before conducting a high-energy laser weapon system demonstration, Dec. 14. During the demonstration, the Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation Laser Weapons System Demonstrator Mark 2 MOD 0 aboard Portland successfully engaged the training target. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin Kates)


The Office of Naval Research selected Portland to host the laser weapon technology in 2018. The LWSD is considered a next-generation follow-on to the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) that afloat forward staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) tested for three years while operating in the Middle East.


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Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) conducts a high-energy laser weapon system demonstration on a static surface training target, Dec. 14, while sailing in the Gulf of Aden. During the demonstration, the Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation Laser Weapons System Demonstrator Mark 2 MOD 0 aboard Portland successfully engaged the training target. The photograph was captured utilizing a short wave infrared lens and optical filter. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin Kate)



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Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) conducts a high-energy laser weapon system demonstration on a static surface training target, Dec. 14, while sailing in the Gulf of Aden. During the demonstration, the Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation Laser Weapons System Demonstrator Mark 2 MOD 0 aboard Portland successfully engaged the training target. The photograph was captured utilizing a short wave infrared lens and optical filter. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin Kates)


Portland is part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group that includes amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) and embarked Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The units departed San Diego in August and began operating in the U.S. 5th Fleet region in September.


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Sailors aboard Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) observe a high-energy laser weapon system demonstration on a static surface training target, Dec. 14, while sailing in the Gulf of Aden. During the demonstration, the Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation Laser Weapons System Demonstrator Mark 2 MOD 0 aboard Portland successfully engaged the training target. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin Kates)


The region's geography, climate, and strategic importance offer a unique environment for technology innovation. U.S. 5th Fleet's area of operations includes the world's largest standing maritime partnership, Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.
 

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The Navy Is Betting Big On High-Power Microwave Weapons


JANUARY 7, 2022
BRETT TINGLEY


Lasers dominate discussions about U.S. Navy directed energy weapons, but the service formed a new office devoted to systems that fire mircrowave beams.

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The U.S. Navy's Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, or NSWCDD, has created a new division specifically for researching and developing high-power microwave (HPM) directed-energy weapons. Unlike lasers, which the Navy also is investing in heavily, this emerging class of weapon systems uses bursts of microwave energy to disrupt or destroy the electronics inside various enemy systems, including drones, small boats, and missiles. As asymmetric threats continue to pose threats to high-value military assets, these weapons could soon provide the Navy with an extra layer of defense if its research and development efforts pan out.

Prior to this reorganization, one NSWCDD research division was responsible for both laser weapons and HPM. In a Naval Sea Systems Command press release announcing the creation of the new division, Weapon Systems Division Head Kevin Cogley says, however, that lasers and HPM weapons can actually complement laser weapons, rather than compete with them.

HPM and lasers work in parallel in a lot of areas,” Cogley said. “One thing that is unique in the HPM arena is that we can have graduated effects. In HPM, we can have a range of effects on target – from basically jamming a device to physically destroying electrical systems.” While this class of weapons isn't new per se, continuing technological advances in miniaturization and efficiency are making microwaves attractive for a wide variety of new applications.


Cogley also briefly outlined the unique benefits and capabilities that microwave weapons offer. “HPM is very different than many other weapon systems because in many cases you may not see any outward physical effects during an engagement but will see nearly-instant results on the target’s operational performance,” Cogley said. “Using HPM, we can give our Sailors a capability that could be a desirable alternative to firing a kinetic weapon.”

One of the most attractive aspects of high-power microwaves and other directed energy systems is that they offer a much lower cost-per-shot than kinetic weapons, which can sometimes total in the millions for a single munition. Directed energy weapons offer another unique advantage over kinetic weapons: magazine depth. Whereas kinetic weapons have fixed magazine sizes and must be physically reloaded, a HPM weapon could have an unlimited magazine, at least in a physical sense.

In addition, HPM systems can potentially operate in a less than lethal manner, meaning they may be able to disable manned vehicles them without directly harming the occupants inside. Such a capability could potentially alter the rules of engagement and allow Navy vessels to engage and disable small manned craft without inflicting physical harm on their occupants.


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A NSWCDD slide outlining several non-lethal methods of disrupting or disabling vessels and vehicles.

Aside from engaging surface vehicles, HPM weapons are well-suited for use in counter unmanned aerial systems (cUAS) roles. Small drones, which are becoming more and more of a threat to a wide variety of Navy and DOD assets, are difficult for some air defense systems to track and target. Unlike lasers, which typically fire a focused beam for short periods of time, HPM weapons can fire wide-area cone-shaped beams, enabling them to engage multiple UAS at once.

"The fact that you can simultaneously track and immediately move to the next target to address not just a swarm, but multiple swarms, is a big advantage," Don Sullivan, chief technologist of directed energy at Raytheon's Missile Systems business, said in 2018 regarding one of its HPM systems supplied to the Air Force. These wide-area effects and speed of light capabilities mean that HPM weapons could even engage targets that maneuver too rapidly for kinetic interceptors to hit.



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Raytheon's Phaser high-power microwave counter-drone system

For those reasons, and potentially more that are not disclosed, Navy Senior Technologist for Directed Energy Dr. Frank Peterkin said that HPM and other directed energy weapons “provide effective and affordable ship defense solutions that address growing threats to our ability to project power and protect freedom of the seas.”

According to NAVSEA’s announcement of the reorganization, this “sets NSWCDD ahead of the curve for HPM testing.” With this new reorganization, NSWCDD becomes one of only two Department of Defense facilities with a dedicated HPM division alongside the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. According to Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), these two laboratories “collaborate on the largest HPM projects in the country, offense applications, counter unmanned aerial systems and integrated air defense topics.” HPM systems are also being eyed for missiles with non-kinetic payloads such as the joint USAF/Navy HiJENKS project, as well as for use in space aboard anti-satellite systems, although these technologies remain highly classified.



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The US Air Force Research Laboratory's Tactical High-Power Operational Responder, or THOR.

The Department of Defense (DOD) is not alone in its efforts to field HPM weapons, as potential peer-state competitors are actively pursuing them as well. They still remain one of the murkier areas of military research, however, and a high degree of confusion and misinformation surrounds the topic. There are plenty of downsides to directed energy weapons like high-power microwaves, too, including possible downtime between shots, atmospheric and meteorological interference, electromagnetic shielding countermeasures, and range constraints.

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A rendering of a ship-based high-power microwave system designed by Epirus.

Still, given the successes that various DOD laboratories have already had in testing high-power microwave systems for use in air defense systems and counter-drone technologies, it’s easy to see why the Navy is placing a higher emphasis on HPM and standing up a specialized research division to develop them. The need for defense systems to deal with the new threats posed by small unmanned vehicle technologies is pressing, one the Navy is currently facing on a regular basis.

HPM systems are well suited to deal with these growing threats, and could potentially defend against more traditional aerial threats like incoming missiles, as well. It's likely that in the very near future, these directed energy systems could complement existing air defenses and close-in weapons systems in protecting U.S. Navy ships patrolling the high seas.
 
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US Army readies to deliver first set of Strykers with 50-kilowatt laser weapons

By Jen Judson

Jan 13, 2022

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Raytheon's 50-kilowatt laser has been chosen for the U.S. Army's directed energy short-range air defense system on a Stryker combat vehicle. The Army will initially outfit a platoon's worth of the system. (Artist rendering courtesy of Raytheon)

WASHINGTON — The first set of Stryker combat vehicles equipped with 50-kilowatt laser weapons will be delivered to a unit of Army soldiers at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, by the end of September, according to the head of the service’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.

The Army has dubbed its Directed Energy Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense system “Guardian.” After testing its first prototype last spring at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, against one-, two-, and three-class unmanned aircraft systems and rockets, artillery and mortars, the service is planning to conduct more tests this month, Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood said at a Jan. 12 event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The testing will continue through the early part of February, he added.

The Army learned from extensive soldier feedback of the first prototype down at White Sands and through virtual simulation, he said. Based on that feedback, the developers have gone back and made some design changes, Thurgood noted.

The Army first awarded a contract in mid-2019 to Kord Technologies, a KBR subsidiary, to serve as the prime contractor for the first set of prototypes.

Kord subsequently awarded subcontracts to Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Technologies to compete to supply the laser module.
The competition was intended to culminate in a shoot-off between those companies’ respective teams. Kord and the Army were slated to then agree on a winner and proceed with integration of the chosen laser module onto three more Strykers to make a platoon’s worth of directed energy-capable SHORAD systems.

But Northrop experienced problems with the power and thermal management system supplied by Kord when integrated with its system, and a fire broke out during testing late last year. Problems persisted into the new year, and Northrop dropped out before the demonstration.

The Raytheon team moved on to demonstrate its system, and the Army chose to go forward with those prototypes. The company received a $123 million contract to supply the laser weapon.

The Army is expected to reopen the competition because the system is considered critical in future operations against prolific threats like UAS.
Lockheed Martin announced at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference last October it would compete if the Army moves forward with a new competition next year.

Taking its experience from other laser weapons programs — including the airborne laser weapon for the Air Force and a 300-kilowatt-class laser under development for the Army’s indirect fires protection capability, or IFPC, as part of a team with Dynetics — Lockheed is scaling its laser technology into an offering it calls DEIMOS.

The Dynetics and Lockheed team is slated to deliver an IFPC high-energy laser technology demonstrator in fiscal 2022; four prototypes are due at the end of FY24.
 

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US Army readies to deliver first set of Strykers with 50-kilowatt laser weapons

By Jen Judson

Jan 13, 2022

View attachment 19059
Raytheon's 50-kilowatt laser has been chosen for the U.S. Army's directed energy short-range air defense system on a Stryker combat vehicle. The Army will initially outfit a platoon's worth of the system. (Artist rendering courtesy of Raytheon)

WASHINGTON — The first set of Stryker combat vehicles equipped with 50-kilowatt laser weapons will be delivered to a unit of Army soldiers at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, by the end of September, according to the head of the service’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.

The Army has dubbed its Directed Energy Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense system “Guardian.” After testing its first prototype last spring at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, against one-, two-, and three-class unmanned aircraft systems and rockets, artillery and mortars, the service is planning to conduct more tests this month, Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood said at a Jan. 12 event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The testing will continue through the early part of February, he added.

The Army learned from extensive soldier feedback of the first prototype down at White Sands and through virtual simulation, he said. Based on that feedback, the developers have gone back and made some design changes, Thurgood noted.

The Army first awarded a contract in mid-2019 to Kord Technologies, a KBR subsidiary, to serve as the prime contractor for the first set of prototypes.

Kord subsequently awarded subcontracts to Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Technologies to compete to supply the laser module.
The competition was intended to culminate in a shoot-off between those companies’ respective teams. Kord and the Army were slated to then agree on a winner and proceed with integration of the chosen laser module onto three more Strykers to make a platoon’s worth of directed energy-capable SHORAD systems.

But Northrop experienced problems with the power and thermal management system supplied by Kord when integrated with its system, and a fire broke out during testing late last year. Problems persisted into the new year, and Northrop dropped out before the demonstration.

The Raytheon team moved on to demonstrate its system, and the Army chose to go forward with those prototypes. The company received a $123 million contract to supply the laser weapon.

The Army is expected to reopen the competition because the system is considered critical in future operations against prolific threats like UAS.
Lockheed Martin announced at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference last October it would compete if the Army moves forward with a new competition next year.

Taking its experience from other laser weapons programs — including the airborne laser weapon for the Air Force and a 300-kilowatt-class laser under development for the Army’s indirect fires protection capability, or IFPC, as part of a team with Dynetics — Lockheed is scaling its laser technology into an offering it calls DEIMOS.

The Dynetics and Lockheed team is slated to deliver an IFPC high-energy laser technology demonstrator in fiscal 2022; four prototypes are due at the end of FY24.
I wonder if it has link16. Must be.. i guess!
 
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