29 February 2016
Mary J. Miller, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Research and Technology, told the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities 'I believe we're very close,' when asked how close the Army is to developing offensive and defensive directed-energy weapons.
She said the programmes would be extensively tested as the Army wants to understand the lasers' full capabilities 'before we offer it to a Soldier.'
A laser at the Air Force Research Laboratory's Starfire Optical Range on a 6,240 foot hilltop at Kirtland Air Force Base, where the Army and Navy is developing its own laser weapons systems.
'It's being done in a 'step-wise demonstration of capability,' she said.
'We have to make sure the lasers work and do the full set of scopes against the threats we project. And those threats include the counter-rockets, counter-artillery and counter-mortar as well as [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] and cruise missile threats.'
Miller explained that the Army wants to understand the lasers' full capabilities 'before we offer it to a Soldier.'
Operators need to trust what lasers can do, she added.
'Lasers have been promised for a long time, but they've never held up and delivered what was asked for, so the operators are rightfully skeptical,' she pointed out.
'That's why the Army is taking lasers out into operational environments and testing them.
In the meantime, 'there will be steps along the way where we spin off lesser capable laser systems that can do good things on smaller platforms.
'Those will come out soon.'
The Air Force said it was already flying prototype weapons.
Dr. David Walker, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Science, Technology and Engineering, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, said the Air Force is working with Special Operations Command to develop an offensive laser that will be fitted to AFSOC AC-130 gunships.
Part of that technology, he said, includes 'beam-steering and power and thermal management.'
'The Air Force is flying every day with lasers under its transport aircraft, using them as infrared countermeasure system,' so we too spun off lesser-capable laser systems and as we get larger power outputs and better thermal management out of smaller package lasers, we will build those powers into defensive to offensive capability as well,' Walker said.
The Navy's science representative described similar laser programs for ships, subs and Marines.
Air Force bosses have previously boasted combat lasers will be fitted to fighters planes by 2020.
The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is on track to demonstrate a working laser weapon on a fighter jet by 2020, it has revealed.
'It really is a national tipping point,' Kelly Hammett, chief engineer for the AFRL's directed energy directorate, told CNN.
'We see the technology evolving and maturing to the stage where it really can be used.'
The military hopes that the new generation of weapons could lead to radical changes in the way wars are fought, with planes having unlimited ammunition - as long as they have enough power.
'You could have an unlimited magazine ... loitering aircraft that could address and access a wide variety of targets, Hammett said.
'I believe we'll have a directed energy pod we can put on a fighter plane very soon,' Air Force General Hawk Carlisle has claimed at the Air Force Association Air & Space conference in a presentation on what he called Fifth-Generation Warfare, according to Ars Technica.
'That day is a lot closer than I think a lot of people think it is.'
The US Navy has already deployed a laser weapon at sea aboard the USS Ponce, capable of a range of attacks against small boats, drones, and light aircraft posing a threat, by blinding sensors or operators or heating elements to make them fail or explode.
Other laser weapons are also being tested by the Office of Naval Research for use on helicopters to protect against man-portable anti aircraft missiles.
Directed-energy weapons pods could be affixed to aircraft to destroy or disable incoming missiles, drones, and even enemy aircraft at a much lower 'cost per shot' than missiles or even guns, Carlisle suggested.
The front runner for the Air Force system is believed to be called the High-Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS), and will create a laser small enough to be mounted on a plane, and is expected to be ready for use by 2020.
General Atomics, the firm making, it, has revealed a full scale system is already under construction following tests.
The AFRL is also working on a defensive laser shield.
A 360-degree laser 'bubble' would surround a U.S. warplane.
That bubble would disable or destroy anything that comes inside, like a missile or another aircraft.
To invent such a shield, you'd need a turret that doesn't interfere with the aerodynamics of the warplane.
A turret like that has already been successfully tested under Hammett at AFRL in partnership with Lockheed Martin and DARPA, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
'It's a huge deal,' Hammett said.
Earlier this year the US Military Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has revealed it has just completed the first tests of the system that could eventually see laser weapons added to drones and fighter jets.
They say the weapons shows 'unprecedented power' and are about to begin testing it against live targets on firing ranges.
'The goal of the HELLADS program is to develop a 150 kilowatt (kW) laser weapon system that is ten times smaller and lighter than current lasers of similar power, enabling integration onto tactical aircraft to defend against and defeat ground threats,' Darpa says.
It said the secretive trials 'demonstrated sufficient laser power and beam quality to advance to a series of field tests.
'The technical hurdles were daunting, but it is extremely gratifying to have produced a new type of solid-state laser with unprecedented power and beam quality for its size,' said Rich Bagnell, yhe projects program manager.
'The HELLADS laser is now ready to be put to the test on the range against some of the toughest tactical threats our warfighters face.'
Ground-based field testing of the HELLADS laser is now expected to begin this year as an effort jointly funded by DARPA and the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Following the field-testing phase, the goal is to make the system available to the military Services for further refinement, testing or transition to operational use.
The HELLADS program has been developing an electrically driven solid state laser at greatly reduced size and weight over lasers of similar power for tactical use.
The laser was developed by DARPA performer General Atomics
The weapons are expected to be used to shoot down drones.
'Enemy surface-to-air threats to manned and unmanned aircraft have become increasingly sophisticated, creating a need for rapid and effective response to this growing category of threats.
'High power lasers can provide a solution to this challenge, as they harness the speed and power of light to counter multiple threats.'
However, they are also likely to be used on bombing raids to target precise locations.
'Laser weapon systems provide additional capability for offensive missions as well—adding precise targeting with low probability of collateral damage.'
Following the tests, GA said 'based on the results of the unit cell demonstration, additional laser modules will be fabricated to produce a 150 kW laser that will be demonstrated in a laboratory environment.'