Frontiers June 2014 33 At the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Stephanie Blount, a Boeing electrophysics engineer, was blowing incoming mortar rounds out of the sky—with a weapon that once would have been the stuff of science fiction. The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator is a solid-state laser system developed for the U.S. Army by Boeing and designed to acquire, track and destroy threats such as mortars and unmanned aerial vehicles. Blount, who has been with Boeing 20 years and works in Directed Energy & Strategic Systems, was at the controls last November during Army testing when the demonstrator destroyed approximately 70 mortar rounds and one unmanned aerial vehicle in flight. She likened the experience to playing a video game. “There’s nothing like seeing flaming wreckage,” Blount said. “People start shooting mortars, and you start shooting them down. It’s cool.” The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, developed in Albuquerque, N.M., is but one of a number of Boeing’s innovative directed-energy capabilities and is part of the Directed Energy & Strategic Systems portfolio. Starting with precision-guided munitions, or “smart bombs,” that were introduced in the 1970s, lasers are revolutionizing warfare. A few years ago, Directed Energy Systems modified a 747 with a powerful chemical laser. The Airborne Laser Test Bed successfully destroyed an in-flight ballistic missile—a historic achievement in laser capability. That program was eventually canceled by the U.S. Defense Department for budget reasons, but today Boeing employees are quickly advancing this speed-of-light capability in many new areas as a practical technology, such as the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator. “Directed energy is maturing rapidly to meet operational requirements, giving the military the right solution at the right time,” said Dave DeYoung, Directed Energy Systems director. “High-energy lasers meet needs in multiple domains, whether that’s a mobile unit for ground forces or pairing a laser with a naval gun system to destroy small boat threats. The capabilities of high-energy lasers are endless. Directed Energy is a real differentiator for the programs Boeing offers.” Laser weapons provide effective protection, with the only cost of operation that of powering the electricity, said Blaine Beardsley, program manager for the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator. It takes just a cup and a half of diesel fuel to fire a 100-kilowatt laser for four seconds to destroy a target, he pointed out. Military leaders have voiced concerns over continuing to use traditional missiles to counter rockets, artillery, mortars and unmanned aerial vehicles. “I’m not sure we can afford to be firing an $800,000 missile at an unmanned aerial vehicle, a rocket or a mortar—even an $80,000 missile,” said PHOTOS: (Far left) Electrophysics engineer Stephanie Blount works the controls of the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator during testing in Albuquerque, N.M. (Above) The demonstrator in Huntsville, Ala.
Frontiers June 2014 Issue
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