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Laser truck leaps ahead

The U.S. Army's new laser truck

Boeing/Eric Shindelbower

The U.S. Army's new laser truck has taken a major step toward becoming a reality. Boeing integrated a beam control system to find and track targets and point and focus a laser beam on the targets.

The U.S. Army has thousands of trucks, but one of its newer vehicles clearly stands out from the rest.

Boeing, the prime contractor for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s (SMDC) High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL TD), recently completed integrating a ruggedized beam control system and other critical hardware on an Oshkosh military vehicle.

The beam control system (BCS) will find and track targets and point and focus the laser beam on those targets. The most eye-catching feature of the BCS is the beam director, a rotating, dome-shaped turret that extends above the roof of the vehicle when it engages targets.

“Working together, the SMDC management team and Boeing and its subcontractors have taken a major step toward providing our warfighters a new and game-changing counter rockets, artillery and mortars capability,” said Michael Lavan, director of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Technical Center, Emerging Technology Directorate.

The program’s next step is using the low-power laser currently installed in the system to demonstrate the ability to target and engage moving projectiles later this year. The vehicle will then get a high-power laser in 2012 – to show it can destroy such targets.

“Working together, the SMDC management team and Boeing and its subcontractors have taken a major step toward providing our warfighters a new and game-changing counter rockets, artillery and mortars capability.”
The beam director

Boeing/Eric Shindelbower

The beam director, a key part of the beam control system, is a rotating, dome-shaped turret that extends above the roof of the vehicle while engaging targets.

U.S. and allied troops currently have limited options to defend against rockets, artillery or mortars. The short-range projectiles are airborne for only seconds, providing little time to take cover. And using heavy gunfire might inadvertently hit friendly forces in the process. But HEL TD’s laser beam, moving at the speed of light, or approximately 186,000 miles per second, will hit targets with unprecedented precision and swiftness.

“If you’re in Iraq, Afghanistan or other areas where there are bad guys, they’re shooting mortars, rockets and artillery shells. This system can track those bullets very finely, put a beam of light on them and destroy them in a matter of seconds,” said Michael Rinn, vice president of Boeing Directed Energy Systems. “So it will save lives and make a difference to our troops.”

“We’re very excited to be partnering with the Army on this program,” said Greg Hyslop, vice president and general manager of Boeing Strategic Missile and Defense Systems. “We believe that directed energy is the next leap forward in capability for the United States. When we harness the precision and power of light on the battlefield, that’s going to give our warfighters a tremendous advantage.”