WASHINGTON — A 50-kilowatt laser weapon version of the Army’s Stryker-based Short-Range Air Defense system will remain a development program longer than planned to ensure it can be produced at a larger scale.

“We are going to keep [the Directed Energy Maneuver-SHORAD] system in [the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office] for a little while longer while we continue to learn and continue to mature,” Lt. Gen. Robert Rasch, the office’s new chief and the former program executive officer for missiles and space, told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.

“We want to make sure when we actually transition a program or a capability that we mature not just the prototype from an operational capability but have a good competitive space and good manufacturability processes in place as well to make that PEO successful,” he said.

As of now, Rasch said he is projecting the effort will become a program of record in fiscal 2024 and the PEO Missiles and Space would officially take it over in FY25. The original plan was to transfer the program in 2023.

The Army is still planning on a future competition for the program, Rasch said.

The idea is to conduct a competition before the transfer to the PEO, “but those are still decisions ahead,” he said, “where we kind of want to leave some decision space for Army senior leaders.”

The effort to put a laser on an M-SHORAD vehicle began in mid-2019, when the Army awarded KBR subsidiary Kord Technologies a contract to integrate a laser system onto the vehicle. Kord, as the program’s prime contractor, subsequently awarded subcontracts to Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Technologies teams to develop the laser module.

The competition between Northrop and Raytheon to produce the laser module was intended to culminate in a shoot-off between the two teams. Kord and the Army then planned to agree on a winner and proceed with integration of the selected module onto three more Strykers to make a platoon’s worth of directed energy-capable SHORAD systems.

Supplied to both teams was a General Dynamics Land Systems-built Stryker and a power and thermal management system from Rocky Research, a Nevada-based company focused on thermal management technology. Rocky Research was acquired by Honeywell in October 2020.

Northrop took itself out of the running ahead of the shoot-off in early 2021 after problems with the power and thermal management system resulted in a fire and smoke damage to the laser system and other components. Northrop continued to have issues with the system and decided it couldn’t continue after a January 2021 checkout.

Following the shoot-off in 2021, the Army awarded Raytheon a $123 million contract to supply the laser weapon.

The first set of Stryker combat vehicles equipped with 50-kilowatt laser weapons will be delivered to a unit of Army soldiers at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, by the end of the year, Rasch said. “We’ll be getting those within the next month, month-and-a-half,” he added, “so we are in final build and final integration ... but we’re making sure our industry partners get it right before we give it to the soldiers.”

Evan Hunt, director of requirement and capabilities for high-energy lasers at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, said the company is ready for production orders and has invested in a laser weapon manufacturing facility in McKinney, Texas.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is also readying itself for the directed-energy SHORAD competition. A year ago at AUSA, the company unveiled DEIMOS, which stands for Directed Energy Interceptor for Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense, and is also the name of the Greek god of dread and terror.

Like the current prototype system, DEIMOS is a 50 kilowatt-class laser weapon designed for integration onto a Stryker vehicle.

The company will demonstrate “first light” before the end of 2022 with its system, “where we will actually be measuring the beam quality of our system,” Amaan Sattar, Lockheed’s director of laser and sensor systems, said in a recent media roundtable.

“We’ll be demonstrating end-to-end performance of what we think is our game-changing, low-cost spectral beam combination architecture,” he said.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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