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Frontiers June 2014 Issue

Lt. Gen. William N. Phillips, who retired in April. He was principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics & Technology). “So investments that we continue to make in high-energy lasers and that capability … are critically important for the Army of 2025.” In recent Army testing, the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator used a 10-kilowatt laser. It is designed to handle 50-kilowatt and 100-kilowatt lasers that are under development. “Testing at 10 kilowatts gives us the opportunity to reduce risks and make improvements prior to installing a higher-power laser,” explained Blount, who has been involved with the system design from the start. The High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator works like this, according to Blount: From the moment the truck wheels stop until the laser is ready to engage targets takes less than 30 minutes. In that time, the vehicle driver flips the breakers, connects Ethernet cables and starts the on-board generator. The driver then takes care of seemingly minor details outside the truck, such as putting covers on the side mirrors as an extra precaution against reflected beams. Inside the truck cab, the operator powers up the computer systems that will automate the firing of the laser. In automated mode, the demonstrator does the work of directing the laser beam. If the radar detects a ground target or unmanned aerial vehicle—something other than a ballistic target such as 34 Frontiers June 2014 a mortar round—the operator gets a directive to switch to manual mode and to determine whether the object is friend or foe. After verifying the target, the operator uses an Xbox-style controller to take command of the system. “You see the target, lock on, get clearance to fire the laser, and start firing holes in things,” Blount said. Imagine, she said, a 20-ounce soda bottle flying through the air miles away at roughly 200 mph (320 kilometers per hour), then directing a dime-size aim point on the bottle. “The best beam-quality laser is one that produces the smallest spot when focused on a target,” she explained. “The smaller the spot on the target, the quicker you can kill it.” A 60 mm mortar round is capable of hitting targets from more than three miles away, or about five kilometers. Being able to destroy an incoming mortar round is critical for warfighters, Blount said. In May, Boeing and the U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense Command tested the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Eglin provided a new environment for testing, with heavy rain, fog and low visibility. Among the test objectives were refining the high-energy laser’s aim point and measuring the laser’s strength over a distance. “As testing continues, Boeing is bringing more resources and technology to the table,” DeYoung said. “Boeing investments made a huge difference in the Florida testing.” The Boeing team also is evaluating ways to give the demonstrator a shoot-on-the-move capability. Meanwhile, Boeing is working with the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy to incorporate solid-state laser weapon systems on other platforms. “When we build directed-energy systems, we transfer lessons to other systems to make sure designs that work are replicated,” Blount said. Boeing has partnered with BAE Systems, for example, to build and test a ship-based 10-kilowatt Tactical Laser System with a machine gun system. The remote-controlled system provides defense against threats such as small boats and unmanned aerial vehicles. Another derivative weapon system is the Manportable Laser, a lightweight, compact system that’s easily transported or mounted to a vehicle or other platform. It can be operated by an individual. During a demonstration of the Manportable Laser, trainees suggested that Boeing map the controller keys like a popular video game to make operation almost intuitive, Blount said. “Learning the system comes naturally to most young service members,” Blount said. “After a couple hours of training, they will be shooting down targets.” n queena.l.jones@boeing.com PHOTOS: (Below, left) A screen shot shows the high-energy laser locked on target. BOEING (Below and right) Boeing and the U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense Command tested the demonstrator at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in May.


Frontiers June 2014 Issue
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