By Jason B. Cutshaw, SMDC
The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command has used a solid-state high-energy laser testbed to engage and destroy threat representative targets in tactical scenarios.
The Solid-State Laser Testbed, or SSLT, is part of an Army test designed to investigate military applications and validate the operational utility of high-energy lasers. Results from testing in April have confirmed that solid-state lasers can negate unmanned aircraft vehicles and rocket, artillery and mortar threats in flight.
“The Army-Northrop Grumman team put in a lot of work to complete these impressive demonstrations,” said Richard P. De Fatta, director of theSMDC Emerging Technology Directorate. “We still have a lot of lethality and performance data to collect for model refinement, but the success of these demonstrations represent extremely important technical milestones. These demonstration results reduce overall program and technical risk while increasing confidence in the community that we can deliver this revolutionary capability to our Soldiers.”
SSLT will be used to evaluate the capability of a high-energy solid-state laser to accomplish a variety of missions. Those results will be the basis for directing future development of solid-state lasers for use on the battlefield.
The SSLT is a high-energy laser, or HEL, system located at the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The SSLT uses the technology from the Joint High Power Solid-State Laser, or JHPSSL, and the Pointer Tracker Subsystem Tactical High Energy Laser.
JHPSSL was built as a joint venture between SMDC and the Department of Defense High Energy Laser-Joint Technology Office, with support from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. The laser was designed and built by Northrop Grumman Corporation at their Space Park facility in Redondo Beach, Calif., on an Army contract.
“The primary function of the SSLT is to collect lethality and beam propagation data needed by military planners to validate directed energy models to help determine the next steps for developing laser systems for the battlefield and, eventually, provide this revolutionary capability for our Soldiers,” said Charles R. Lamar, SMDC Technical Center.
Lamar said high-energy lasers offer the potential to defeat a number of targets of military interest including rockets, artillery, mortars, unmanned aerial vehicles, UAV-mounted sensors and cruise missiles.
“HELs were modeled and performed well in a recent Army Analysis of Alternatives,” said Lamar. “This AoA was the Integrated Force Protection Capability’s second increment. AoA had as its goal the development of a capability to defeat RAM and UAVs. Not only were HEL weapons effective at engaging enemy threats but they were also projected to be cost effective.
“SSLT provides important weapon effectiveness information in support of HEL weapon system development with the ability to conduct HEL lethality and propagation experiments at weapons scale power level,” he added. “These experiments include both static lethality experiments and dynamic tests where flying targets are engaged and defeated by the laser system.”
For more than 30 years, the Army and other DOD organizations have developed and tested a variety of directed energy devices, including both chemical and solid state lasers. High-power chemical lasers, such as THEL, proved to be successful in testing against RAM, but the use of chemical fuels would cause a large logistical burden for the Warfighter.
In 2005, the Army decided to focus on all-electric SSLs to the lower -cost high-energy lasers as a path to the future, with the only consumable being diesel fuel for electric generators to power the lasers.
“UAVs are widely proliferated on the modern battlefield. Enemy UAVs, whether armed or equipped with sensors, represent a significant new threat to our deployed forces,” Lamar said. “HELs offer the potential to be a cost effective means of providing our armed forces with a revolutionary capability to engage the enemy and save Soldiers’ lives. The data developed by the SSLT will help determine if HELs are ready to achieve this potential.”