Army developing lasers that can pierce fog and dust

| October 31, 2017 | 0 Comments

This Mobile High-Energy Laser-equipped Stryker was evaluated April 12 during the 2017 Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment at Fort Sill, Okla. The MEHEL can shoot a drone out of the sky using a 5kW laser. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by C. Todd Lopez)

David Vergun
Army News Service

WASHINGTON — A lot of people think that high-energy lasers, or HELs, can’t penetrate fog, rain and dust, said Thomas Webber. That’s just plain wrong.

Webber, director of the Directed Energy Division’s Technical Center, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, spoke at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition, Oct. 9.

The key to making HELs work in poor atmospheric conditions is something called “adaptive optics,” he said, adding that the Army is continuing to make more and more improvements on its adaptive optics system to give a greater range of compensation for degraded conditions.

Besides the optics, an effective beam control system is used, which forms one beam from multiple lasers to pinpoint exactly where the peak energy should be focused, he said, adding that it operates in conjunction with the optics system.

Advantages of lasers
Webber outlined some advantages HELs have over conventional weapons. HELs are low-cost, the main expense being the diesel used to power the generators, he said.

They’re also faster than conventional weapons, he pointed out.

The HELs have rapid engagement, which means that once the target is acquired and engaged “it’s not getting away from you, because the instant fired, it will make contact with it at the speed of light. It doesn’t get any faster than that.”

Precision of the energy is another key component, he said, meaning HEL can be focused at the most vulnerable point of the target where it will do the most damage, thanks to the advanced optics and speed at which a laser travels.
In fact, the optics on the HEL are so advanced that a battlefield commander can use them for multiple applications with regards to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“It’s the best ISR capability they’ll ever have access to,” Webber said.

HEL has “a deep magazine,” he said, implying that it doesn’t run out of bullets or jam like conventional weapons sometimes do.

Another advantage is that HELs don’t broadcast a visible signature because the laser beam is invisible to the human eye, despite artist renderings of lasers firing brightly colored beams, he said.

Finally, he said, HELs give commanders graduated degrees of engagement. What that means is the HELs can be dialed up to destroy rockets, mortar and artillery fire, as well as unmanned systems, or the power can be dialed down low enough to disable targets as “soft” as an AK-47 rifle.

The effectiveness of lasers was demonstrated during the Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Organization’s “Hard Kill Challenge” exercise, conducted at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, from Feb. 27 to March 3, 2017, Webber said.

During that challenge, the Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser 2.0, using a relatively small 5-kilowatt HEL, demonstrated its counter-UAS capability, winning the challenge by shooting down more UASs than any other type of weapon, he noted.

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