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When U.S. and allied troops are attacked by rockets, artillery or mortars, they have limited options for self-defense. They can respond with heavy gunfire, but they might inadvertently hit friendly forces in the process. They can try to take cover, but they have only seconds to dodge the short-range projectiles.
Is there a better way?
The U.S. Army and a Boeing-led industry team are developing a capability that could change the battlefield, and save lives. Called the High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL TD), the system will consist of a laser weapon system mounted on a military truck.
Photo courtesy Oshkosh Defense
Traveling literally at the speed of light — 186,000 miles per second — the laser beam will hit targets with unprecedented swiftness. And no bullets will rain down on anyone in the process.
"This transformational, ultra-precision capability will dramatically improve warfighters' ability to counter rocket, artillery and mortar projectiles," said Michael Rinn, vice president of Boeing Directed Energy Systems.
Under contract to the Army, Boeing last year completed the design of a laser beam control system (BCS) on a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT), a widely used military vehicle built by Oshkosh Defense in Oshkosh, Wis. Boeing announced earlier this year that it has accepted the eight-wheel, 500-horsepower truck from Oshkosh and has begun building the ruggedized BCS. The truck will be shipped to Boeing's facility in Huntsville, Ala., this summer for integration with the BCS.
"HEL TD, which was only a concept on a page three years ago, experienced a rapid but smooth transition to the design phase and now the fabrication of real hardware," said Blaine Beardsley, Boeing HEL TD program manager. "The Army, Boeing and our subcontractors have paid close attention to every detail, and as a result, we are meeting or exceeding all requirements."
A key "subassembly" of the BCS is the beam director, a dome-shaped turret that will extend above the roof of the vehicle when it engages targets. The beam director, which can rotate 360 degrees, will contain a set of mirrors that point and focus the beam. Other BCS subassemblies will focus the laser beam and transfer it from the laser to the beam director. The BCS also will find and track targets.
HEL TD testing against real targets, but using a low-power "surrogate" for the high-energy laser, is scheduled for fiscal year 2011 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. These tests will demonstrate the ability to target and engage moving projectiles with the HEL TD system. The truck will later be equipped with a high-energy laser that can destroy those targets.
"These efforts could pave the way for further development of the technology — and ultimately deployment on the battlefield," said Bill Gnacek, the Army’s HEL TD program manager. "Our main goal is to transition this HEL TD technology into a formal acquisition program and eventually place it in the hands of Army commanders, providing them an effective, lethal capability to counter rocket, artillery and mortar projectiles."