The U.S. Army is developing a new 300kW-class laser weapon prototype under the Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High Energy Laser (IFPC-HEL) program.
The IFPC-HEL effort stems from a previous science and technology program known as the High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator (HEL-TVD), which featured a 100 kW-class laser integrated on a Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) platform.
Under the new IFPC-HEL program, the Army plans to demonstrate the 300kW-class laser weapon capability in FY 2022 and deliver four operational, 300 kW-class IFPC-HEL prototypes integrated on tactical vehicles to a platoon by FY 2024.
The IFPC-HEL system is intended to protect fixed and semi-fixed sites from rockets, artillery and mortars (RAM); unmanned aerial systems (UAS); and rotary and fixed-wing threats. Additionally, the IFPC-HEL system can be used to defeat more stressing threats.
In November, the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) sponsored a High Energy Laser Scaling Initiative (HELSI) contract award by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and completed a critical design effort in support of the IFPC-HEL effort.
On Nov. 25, an OSD HELSI contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin and Aculight Corporation supporting the demonstration of a stand-alone 300kW-class HEL system. The company is one of three high energy laser producers participating in the OSD-led initiative to develop and lab test a 300 kW-class laser in FY22. The Army is the OSD designated proponent for Lockheed Martin in this initiative, while the other companies are Nutronics, Inc., sponsored by the Navy, and General Atomics, sponsored by the Air Force.
On Jan. 24, the Army modified an existing contract with Dynetics that adjusts the previous contract for HEL-TVD in support of the higher-powered IFPC-HEL demonstration and will inform a decision to build four prototype systems. This comes after the Army completed the HEL-TVD Critical Design Review on Nov. 7, marking the official transition to the IFPC-HEL effort.
The OSD and Army contracts will inform and provide complementary, modular subsystems for IFPC-HEL, including beam control and electronics; beam direction; power and thermal; and the high energy laser itself. These components can be developed, tested, and integrated in parallel, enabling the rapid progress of the prototyping effort.
High energy lasers engage at the speed of light and provide a solution to constantly evolving threats, while reducing the logistics tail associated with conventional kinetic weapon systems such as artillery and missiles.
The IFPC-HEL effort is not the only Army Directed Energy (DE) rapid prototyping project. The RCCTO also issued an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) agreement in July to accelerate the rapid prototyping and fielding of a 50kW class laser for a platoon of Stryker vehicles in FY 2022.
The directed energy M-SHORAD prototypes are part of the progression of an Army technology maturation initiative known as the Multi-Mission High Energy Laser (MMHEL).
The laser weapon-equipped Srykers will complement Maneuver Short Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD) capability in support of tactical and operational maneuver formations. This system will represent the Army’s first laser-based capability fielded to a fighting formation.