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US Army gets world record-setting 60-kW laser

March 16, 2017 (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
This story has been updated to include additional information from Radiance Technologies.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The U.S. Army is taking delivery of a 60 kilowatt-class laser from Lockheed Martin as the company wraps up demonstrations of the capability.

“In testing earlier this month, the Lockheed Martin laser produced a single beam of 58kW, representing a world record for a laser of this type,” the company said in a statement Thursday.

Now that the laser is in Army hands, Radiance Technologies, which has been working on Boeing's High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) program since 2012 will conduct laboratory testing of the new laser.

Once the laser is integrated onto the Army's Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, or HEMTT, that becomes the High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck. Radiance will coordinate all testing of the laser against targets.

The HEMTT is the largest vehicle in the Army inventory and previously a 10-kW laser was tested on the platform.
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The new laser is based on a design developed under the Department of Defense’s Robust Electric Laser Initiative Program, as well as through investments into the 60 kW-class system by the company and the Army.

The Pentagon has made directed energy an important priority because military officials believe ultimately employing lasers will dramatically decrease the cost of firing shots. Missiles, rockets, artillery and mortars would ultimately cost far more than shooting with a laser, and with the proper power source, laser weapons would never run out of ammunition.

The delivery of the more powerful laser to the Army marks another important milestone in developing directed energy to be used as laser weapons on a variety of platforms.

The 10-kW specialized commercial-off-the-shelf welding laser on a HEMTT was tested between 2010 and 2014 in the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator program and shot down targets in flight, to include class 2 unmanned aircraft systems and 60mm mortars at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

The less powerful laser was also tested at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, during a maneuver fires integration experiment last spring where the primary targets were class 1 quadcopter UAS as well as ground targets like simulated ground stations and ammunition points.

In 2015, the company used a 30-kW fiber laser weapon, known as ATHENA, to disable a truck from a mile away.

Lockheed is preparing to ship the 60-kW laser to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command and Army Forces Strategic Command in Huntsville, Ala.

The more powerful laser brings together individual lasers “generated through fiber optics, to generate a single, intense laser beam,” Lockheed explained, which allows for it to be scaled up in power by adding more fiber laser subunits.

“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,” Robert Afzal, a senior fellow for Lockheed’s Laser and Sensor Systems business, said.

The laser system has “proved to be highly efficient in testing,” the company stated, “capable of translating more than 43 percent of the electricity that powered it directly into the actual laser beam it emitted."

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