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Armies employing Vehicle mounted Lasers Directed Energy Weapons to counter swarm of Drones and C-RAM (Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar)

The  drones have emerged as a major new threat to U.S. and allied forces. Earlier this month, two Kurdish fighters were killed in an incident involving an Islamic State drone rigged with explosives. Anti-drone weapons have also been spotted at U.S. military bases on the front lines against the Islamic State, and the Air Force has disclosed it downed a IS drone through “electronic measures”.


A battlefield laser weapon designed to destroy or disable enemy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), already in use by the U.S. Army. The Compact Laser Weapon System, or CLWS, is already part of the Army’s Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser program. The vehicle-mounted weapon is deployed on Stryker vehicle in Europe and has been part of field experiments.


The US Army is planning to deploy laser weapons able to protect Forward Operating Bases (FOB) by rapidly incinerating and destroying approaching enemy drones, artillery rounds, mortars and cruise missiles. The US Army announced earlier that they are going to be going all in on laser and direct energy weapons and that they will be fitting them onto their armoured Stryker personel carriers first. Forward-deployed soldiers in places like Afghanistan are familiar with facing incoming enemy mortar rounds, rockets and gunfire attacks; potential future adversaries could launch drones, cruise missiles, artillery or other types of weapons at FOBs.


In November of 2013, the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command used the HEL MD, a vehicle-mounted high energy laser, to successfully engage more than 90 mortar rounds and several unmanned aerial vehicles in flight at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.. “This was the first full-up demonstration of the HEL MD in the configuration that included the laser and beam director mounted in the vehicle. A surrogate radar (Enhanced Multi Mode Radar) supported the engagement by queuing the laser,” an Army statement said.


Lockheed Martin has completed the design, development and demonstration of a radical 60 kW laser weapon for the U.S. Army. In recent testing, the Lockheed Martin laser produced a single beam of 58 kW, representing a world record for a laser of this type.  Army bosses hope the radical weapon will give protection against threats such as swarms of drones or large numbers of rockets and mortars, and says It could one day be installed on military planes, helicopters and ships.



China’s  Poly Technologies has also  showed off The Silent Hunter, one of the world’s most powerful laser weapons. It claims an output of at least 50-70 kilowatts, which would make it more powerful than the 33-kilowatt laser weapon systems (LaWS) currently deployed on the USS Ponce.The Silent Hunter is likely to be scaled up and equipped with radars to complement its optical/infrared tracking system, making it a capable close range defense system against enemy missiles, artillery, drones and aircraft.

Laser Directed energy weapons

Lasers excite atoms to release photons in powerful bursts of coherent (single-frequency, single-phase) light that can be focused and aimed with mirrors. With sufficient power, lasers can quickly pierce or overheat a wide range of targets, including missiles, aircraft and artillery rounds.


Laser Directed energy weapons (DEWs) offer several potentially “game changing” advantages: First, they transmit lethal force at the speed of light (about 300,000 kilometers per second). Second, their beams are not affected by the constraining effects of gravity or atmospheric drag. Third, they are extremely precise. Fourth, their effects can be tailored by varying the type and intensity of energy delivered against targets. Fifth, they have deep magazines and relatively low cost per shot. Finally, they are versatile in that they can be used both as sensing devices and kill mechanisms. However, directed-energy weapons also have drawbacks: laser beams are weakened by water vapor, dust and other obscurants, while radio-frequency emissions can be absorbed by any conductive material between the weapon and the target.


In the slightly longer term, both the Army and Marines want to upgrade their lasers to counter rockets, artillery, and mortar shells (C-RAM). Those are faster-moving, tougher targets that mini-drones, but like drones they are an increasing threat as precision-guidance technology spreads to potential enemies


Lasers are an ideal choice to shoot down enemy artillery. Artillery rockets, shells, and bombs travel at high speeds, and defensive weapons must lead the target, spraying a cloud of shells where it anticipates the enemy weapon will be. Lasers move at the speed of light, eliminating the need to lead the target, and modern fire control systems can keep the laser focused on an object until it melts and crashes—or explodes in flight.

Army and General Dynamics Stryker mounted laser

The Army and General Dynamics Land Systems are developing a Stryker mounted laser weapon aimed at better arming the vehicle to incinerate enemy drones or threatening ground targets. The concept vehicles are being engineered and tested at the Army’s Ft. Sill artillery headquarters as a way to quickly develop the weapon for operational service. During a test in April, the laser weapons successful shot down 21 out of 23 enemy drone targets and the program is the first time that a laser weapon has ever been integrated into a combat vehicle.


The laser weapon system uses its own tracking radar to acquire targets in the event that other sensors on the vehicle are disabled in combat and has an electronic warfare jamming system intended to jam the signal of enemy drones. Boeing is responsible for making the fire control technology integrated into the laser weapon and the laser is also integrated with air-defense and field artillery networks.


The Boeing creation is a 5 kilowatt laser that can shoot down UAVs, attack snipers, breaching obstacles, setting-off unexploded ordnance, denying enemy landing zones, and to defend ports or airfields. The laser can mount atop the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) or other light battlefield vehicles, or it can go on a tripod and hooked to a generator to knock down UAV threats at a medium-sized forward-operating base or on the perimeter of a larger installation.


The weapon is capable of destroying Group 1 (drones up to 20lbs) and Group 2 (drones up to 55lbs) small and medium sized drones, Reese added.  The whole system is compact and portable, fitted inside four suitcase-sized boxes; it can be assembled quickly in the field by two soldiers or personnel. Once assembled, the device is controlled by a standard Xbox 360 controller and a notebook computer. Custom targeting software lets the laser weapon system take control over the weapon and automatically track an enemy drone. The precision control afforded by the system allows operators to target certain parts of the drone, such as the tail or the wing. Currently, the laser weapon is designed to operate from a static position, but future models may be deployed and fired from a moving vehicle or a ship.


The Army’s aim is to develop an 18-kilowatt laser for the M1131 Stryker Fire Support Vehicle (FSV) by 2018. The FSV is the vehicle that calls for friendly artillery, so it sort of makes sense that it would be responsible for shooting down enemy artillery. It has a thermal imager/day camera that could help it spot drones, and four radios to monitor communications traffic for drone reports. In addition to the laser weapon the FSV will have a electronic jammer to jam drone control signals.


US Army tests Raytheon laser weapon mounted on Polaris MRZR All-Terrain vehicle

A Polaris 4×4 All-Terrain vehicle fitted with Raytheon High Energy Lasers was tested during the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) at the U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence.  Advancements have been made to the Hunter and Killer platforms which provide U.S. Soldiers with counter unmanned aerial system capabilities (C-UAS).


The Polaris vehicle with the laser weapon system is a new way for the U.S. Army to fight new threats as small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) able to perform suicide bomb missions against dismounted troops and combat vehicles. The Hunter finds enemy UAV and can call for fire and attack a target automatically.


The Raytheon team is combining a high energy laser with an advanced variant of Raytheon’s Multi-spectral Targeting System – a sophisticated package of electro-optical and infrared sensors mounted on a Polaris MRZR, a small, all-terrain vehicle. The laser weapon system offers 360 degree coverage for sea, land and air applications. The laser technology of Raytheon is able to identify, tracks, and defends against enemy missiles, mortars, unmanned vehicles, swarming boat attacks and other “close-in” defense situations. It provides precise, clean, low-cost engagements with near-infinite magazines.


The Raytheon laser system generates high power output in compact and rugged packages. The open architecture features modular, scalable designs that can be integrated on a variety of tactical platforms making them available for immediate use in combat


Lockheed martin develops 60 kW Laser for US army

Lockheed Martin has completed the design, development and demonstration of a radical 60 kW laser weapon for the U.S. Army. The Lockheed Martin laser system is now being shipped to the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command in Huntsville, Alabama for more testing.


Delivery of this laser represents an important milestone along the path to fielding a practical laser weapon system,’ said Paula Hartley of Lockheed Martin’s Cyber, Ships & Advanced Technologies line of business. ‘We have to make sure the lasers work and do the full set of scopes against the threats we project. And those threats include the counter-rockets, counter-artillery and counter-mortar as well as [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] and cruise missile threats.


Lockheed Martin’s laser is a beam combined fiber laser, meaning it brings together individual lasers, generated through fiber optics, to generate a single, intense laser beam. This allows for a scalable laser system that can be made more powerful by adding more fiber laser subunits. The laser is based on a design developed under the Department of Defense’s Robust Electric Laser Initiative Program, and further developed through investments by Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Army into a 60kW-class system.


In 2015, the company used a 30kW fiber laser weapon, known as ATHENA, to disable a truck from a mile away. Earlier military security experts successfully managed to stop a truck in its tracks by destroying its engine with a laser using the lower powered system. The 30-kilowatt fibre laser called Athena burnt through the manifold in seconds, despite being fired by a team from Lockheed Martin positioned more than a mile away. The security firm said the test signifies the next step to fitting lightweight laser weapons on military aircraft, helicopters, ships and trucks.


We have shown that a powerful directed energy laser is now sufficiently light-weight, low volume and reliable enough to be deployed on tactical vehicles for defensive applications on land, at sea and in the air.’ According to Afzal, the Lockheed Martin team created a laser beam that was near ‘diffraction-limited,’ meaning it was close to the physical limits for focusing energy toward a single, small spot. The laser system also proved to be highly efficient in testing, capable of translating more than 43 percent of the electricity that powered it directly into the actual laser beam it emitted.


The Army is also developing a mobile high-energy solid-state laser program called the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, or HEL MD. The weapon mounts a 10 kilowatt laser on top of a tactical truck. HEL MD weapons developers, who rotate the laser 360-degrees on top of a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, say the Army plan is to increase the strength of the laser up to 100 Kilowatts, service officials said. “The supporting thermal and power subsystems will be also upgraded to support the increasingly powerful solid state lasers. These upgrades increase the effective range of the laser or decrease required lase time on target,” an Army statement said.


Oerlikon Skyshield High Energy Laser

This versatile air defence system consists of an Oerlikon Skyguard 3 fire control unit for target acquisition and weapon control and an Oerlikon high energy laser gun using a revolver gun turret equipped with laser weapon modules. Each module consists of one 10 kW fibre laser and a beam-forming unit. Commercial off the shelf fibre lasers were modified for air defence applications. The beam-forming unit provides diffraction-limited beam focusing, target imaging and fine tracking of the target.


By using beam superimposing technology, Rheinmetall has combined the power of single lasers into one multiplied laser beam. This technology not only allows superimposition of multiple lasers on a single gun platform, but also superimposition of multiple gun platforms. This enables an almost unlimited (e.g. 100kW and more) power output in line with the evolving air defence requirement. As a result the high-energy laser gun provides efficient protection against a large spectrum of modern air threats. Paired with radar, anti-air missiles, and 35mm guns, the whole system tracks incoming projectiles and shoots them down, assigning each weapon to the target for which it’s best-suited: missiles target planes, guns counter attack helicopters, and the lasers focus on small drones.



China laser directed energy weapons

Terrorists have started using small-sized, unmanned drones that are relatively cheap and easy to use. Neutralizing these drones through the snipers and helicopters, is difficult and can result in collateral damage. In 2014, Xinhua News Agency, China’s state press agency, reported that the China Academy of Engineering Physics (Sichuan Province) and other Chinese co developers have created and tested a laser-defense system designed to shoot down small unmanned drones such as “quadricopters” as well as small winged drones, flying at low altitude. Chinese Xinhua news agency, has reported 100 percent success rate of its Laser Weapon by shooting down more than 30 drones in a recent test.


The system destroy any small-scale drone flying within a 2Km radius , below of 500 m altitude and below 50 m/s(112mph) speed within five seconds of locating its target, the China Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP), one of the system’s co-developers, claimed in a statement. The mechanism can also take down various other small aircraft within a two-kilometer radius. The new laser system will be installed or transported in vehicles, and “is expected to play a key role in ensuring security during major events in urban areas,” the CAEP statement said.


Chinese Academy of Physics Engineering and Jiuyuan Hi Tech Equipment Corporation, have introduced  its  new lethal laser gun, the Low Altitude Guard II, in 2016.  Compared with its predecessor, LAG II is more apparently militarized. Its range is doubled to 4 km and has a 300 percent increase in maximum power output to 30 kilowatts. That’s comparable to the Laser Weapons System (LAWS) installed on the USS Ponce, which has a range of 15-50 kilowatts for attacking UAVs, small boats, and helicopters. Poly Technology representatives told media that the LAG II can be either mounted on a medium sized truck, or a 6X6 armored personnel carrier, to provide frontline protection against small drones.


In 2017, Poly Technologies showed off The Silent Hunter, one of the world’s most powerful laser weapons. It claims an output of at least 50-70 kilowatts, which would make it more powerful than the 33-kilowatt laser weapon systems (LaWS) currently deployed on the USS Ponce. The laser is probably based on a smaller anti-drone laser, the Low Altitude Guard. That’s enough to knock out automobiles by burning out their engines from over a mile away, as the 30-kilowatt Lockheed Martin ATHENA laser demonstrated in 2015. The Silent Hunter uses fibre optic lasers (fibre optics doped with rare earth minerals), which provide weight savings over chemical lasers through increasing optical gain by kilometers of coiled fibre optics (as opposed to bulky chemical lasers). The Silent Hunter is likely to be scaled up and equipped with radars to complement its optical/infrared tracking system, making it a capable close range defense system against enemy missiles, artillery, drones and aircraft.


Technology areas

Thus, today’s laser weapons are meant to defend against swarms of inexpensive mortar rounds, drones and other projectiles, and are intended to be mounted on platforms which are mobile and self-contained (meaning they may not have ready access to an external source of power). This gives rise to several design imperatives.


First, they must deliver a low cost per engagement; it’s simply not economically feasible to employ an expensive weapon (such as a missile costing over $100,000) to knock out a drone which costs $1,000, or a mortar round which might cost less than $100. The laser weapon must also be capable of rapid fire so that it can’t just be overwhelmed by a large number of simultaneous incoming rounds.


Also, rapid fire reduces the number of individual laser weapons systems needed to protect a given number of troops. But, the
ability to deliver rapid fire also necessitates that the system be electrically efficient. Otherwise the laser weapon will require access to a large quantity of fuel, which is difficult (and dangerous) to transport into a battlefield.


C-RAM (Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar)  systems intended to be deployed in the battlefield to protect troops and equipment from incoming projectiles. Currently, these are envisioned to be single, vehicle mounted lasers, with output powers in the 10 kW to 50 kW range.


Boeing has already successfully prototyped such a system, which they call the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD). This consists of a 10 kW solid state laser installed on an Oshkosh Tactical Military Vehicle, along with all the necessary targeting and control systems. HEL MD has proven the ability to lock on to and destroy a mortar round of about 10 inches in length, traveling at hundreds of miles per hour, from several miles out. The system is also effective against Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones); in this case, it may be sufficient to damage the drone’s navigation and targeting systems, rather than completely destroy it.


Advanced UAV and Mortar Target Detection and Tracking Algorithms for Low Signal-to-Noise Ratio and Cluttered Environments

US DOD has issues a SBIR for  development of  advanced image processing algorithms for the detection and tracking of small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Mortars in low Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) and cluttered environments. The specific platform of interest for this topic is a ground-based High Energy Laser (HEL) weapon system.


Many military weapon systems rely on passive thermal infrared sensors (MWIR/LWIR) for target detection and tracking. In many cases, the maximum detection range of these sensors are limited by the ability of the image processing algorithms to detect and extract a target of interest.Typical HEL acquisition sensors employ a passive MWIR camera with a wide-field of view (3 degrees).


Dim targets such as small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and mortars are extremely difficult to detect and track due to the low contrast in the thermal imagery, or low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). High clutter environments such as cloud or tree backgrounds also increase the difficulty in target detection and tracking.


The challenge is to develop advanced image processing algorithms that can increase the maximum detection and tracking range against UAVs and mortars. The specific challenges to be addressed include: Target Detection/Tracking at SNRs less than 3dB Target Detection/Tracking in Cloud and Tree Backgrounds Unresolved Target Detection/Tracking (target size less than 1 pixel) Targets to be used in the analysis include the DJI Phantom and a 60mm mortar.


The proposed algorithms must be able to process imagery in near real-time to be applied to military applications (Threshold: 300Hz bandwidth, Objective: 1kHz bandwidth). The algorithms must be written so that multiple targets (Threshold: 1 target, Objective: 10 targets) can be detected and tracked at a time. If successful, advanced algorithms for target detection and tracking will benefit many military applications.


Low-Cost Reduced Size, Weight and Power RF Sensor for Short-Range Target Tracking in Degraded Visual Environments

Many military weapon systems rely on passive mid-wave infrared (MWIR) technology for wide-field of view acquisition and precision tracking of targets. These MWIR sensors were selected for operation in clear visibility conditions and provide performance margin down to hazy and light fog conditions, but are severely degraded under heavy fog, rain, snow, sand and dust storm conditions.


Recent studies have shown that radio frequency (RF) sensors can perform the same functions as the MWIR sensors, but do not suffer the same performance losses in these degraded visual environments (DVEs). However, current RF technology is too expensive, too large and requires too much power to use as a replacement for these MWIR sensors.


The challenge is to develop a truly low cost RF acquisition and tracking sensor with reduced Size, Weight and Power (SWaP). Performance examples are acquisition and tracking of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and rockets, artillery and mortars (RAM) on the order of 5km or less in clear weather and DVEs. The proposed system must have a field of view and angular accuracy that would enabled replacement of a passive wide-FOV MWIR sensor (>3° FOV; <300 urad accuracy).


Interferometers are preferred (in order to achieve the angular resolution needed), but other RF concepts will be considered. Because these RF sensors will be used to replace infrared cameras, which require very little SWaP, reducing the total system footprint is extremely important. Man-portability would be ideal.


The proposed sensor must be capable of integration onto a mobile platform with other military capabilities such as a Stryker, and require minimal power that can be supplied through the vehicles on-board power system. For example, multiple small flat panel RF arrays can be integrated into the side of a tactical vehicle. If successful, low-cost reduced SWaP RF sensors would significantly benefit many military and commercial applications such as High Energy Laser weapon platforms, small-satellite tracking applications, and the commercial aviation industry.


Requirements: – Detection Range (RAM & UAV) “ T: 5km; O: 10km – FOV (Search Volume) – T: 3°; O: 90° – Angular Accuracy “ T: 300urad; O: 30urad – Size & Weight “ T: Mountable on Mobile Vehicle; O: Mountable on a Beam Director – Power Consumption “ T: 1kW; O: 500W – Low-Cost


Future laser weapon applications will range from very high power devices used for air defense (to detect, track, and destroy incoming rockets, artillery, and mortars) to modest power devices used for counter-ISR. The Phase III effort would be to design and build a low-cost reduced SWaP RF acquisition and tracking sensor that could be integrated into the Armys High Energy Laser Mobile Tactical Truck (HEL-MTT) vehicle.



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