Army Strykers Will Incinerate Enemy Drones in Laser Weapon "Shoot-Off"

Warrior Maven

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By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington D.C.) Strykers will incinerate enemy drones, helicopters, aircraft and maybe even incoming enemy missiles, rockets and artillery with 50kw laser weapons during an upcoming “combat shoot-off” at Fort Sill, Okla.

During the shoot-off, and Army Futures Command statement says, the laser-armed Strykers will face a series of “scenarios designed to test the system and establish threshold requirements for this class of laser.”

For quite some time, the Army and other laser weapons developers have been working on engineering power-scaled lasers able to fire with greater strength, power, precision and range. This requires exportable sources of power, the proper form factors or hardware configurations and specially engineered laser-firing technologies built to optimize firepower.

The Army has been integrating and testing laser weapons on Strykers for quite some time and has in recent years already armed tactical vehicles with some measure of power. The reasons for this are both clear and numerous.

Lasers are quiet, meaning they can fire without a large acoustic signature which could give away an attack position, should a large missile or cannon be fired. They can offer a kind of silent attack. They are also scalable, meaning they can fire off to fully destroy and incinerate or merely stun or disable an enemy target, depending upon the power setting of the weapon. Higher and higher power lasers are fast emerging to the point where, should technology and form factor miniaturization mature at the current pace, fighter jets, tanks and other large-scale combat platforms will likely be armed with very high-power laser weapons.

Mobile-power technology, targeting algorithms, beam control and thermal management technologies are all progressing quickly such that more powerful lasers are likely to emerge in the very near future. Fire-control oriented computer algorithms could quickly merge sensor data with targeting information and tactical details to give Strykers an ability to find and hit targets much more efficiently, and potentially at farther ranges.

“It is all about the ability to put photons on target. It is a system that can be deployed rapidly from a stowed position. It can engage an enemy at the speed of light. It has to be able to shoot from a moving platform and engage a moving target through an air column that can be full of rain, dust or turbulence -- and hold that energy on target long enough to get the desired effect,” Mark Skinner, Vice President of Directed Energy, Northrop Grumman, told Warrior.

Skinner mentioned weather obscurants as part of the much discussed “beam attenuation” challenge when it comes to laser weapons. Not only do lasers require substantial amounts of transportable electrical power but are also at times limited by certain adverse weather conditions. With this in mind, industry developers such as Northrop are exploring innovations designed to increase the range, functionality, power and durability of lasers to enable more attack options.

Army Strykers armed with lasers and other air-defense weapons are changing the Army to rethink its armored vehicle formations and rapidly integrate methods of incorporated unmanned systems -- ground and air drones -- into armored vehicle maneuver. The presence of new weapons of this kind might enable mobile units to hit enemies faster, add precision, and in some cases lower collateral damage. In a heavily populated urban area, for instance, firing a missile interceptor might cause a larger, more dangerous explosion; firing a laser which slowly burns a hole through the metal of an enemy air target can decrease fragmentation and tailor the timing of when an enemy asset is ultimately disabled. As part of this attack envelope, lasers are scalable. Several beams can be merged for a stronger impact, and its strength can be adjusted, enabling attackers with a range of options to include destroying or merely disabling a target. So while the initial weapon is slated as 50kw, the power will likely go up as technology allows.

Lasers can also function as optical sensors able to identify or paint targets for other weapons. This kind of technology also contributes to multi-domain operations because, as platforms increasingly become more networked, air platforms such as drones and surveillance planes will be able to more quickly share targeting information which ground combat assets such as Strykers; this quickens the sensor-to-shooter kill chain and gives attacking forces a better opportunity to get ahead of an enemies’ decision cycle. It further enables tactical combat maneuver as ground attack vehicles can better interoperate with air attack, cueing drones on attack targets or receiving combat-relevant ISR in real time -- with much less latency.

The Navy, for example, is already working with the Missile Defense Agency to explore the kinds of power-scaling that may be necessary to fire lasers from ships into space, or high up into the earth’s atmosphere to destroy high-altitude attacking aircraft or even incoming ballistic missiles. Lasers are of course also lower cost than firing off an expensive missile or munition, and many can be fired in rapid succession. Lasers also bring the advantage of speed, as the weapon travels at the speed of light.

The presence of new weapons of this kind might enable mobile units to hit enemies faster, add precision, and in some cases lower collateral damage. In a heavily populated urban area, for instance, firing a missile interceptor might cause a larger, more dangerous explosion; firing a laser which slowly burns a hole through the metal of an enemy air target can decrease fragmentation and tailor the timing of when an enemy asset is ultimately disabled.

-- Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

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