WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has awarded a contract each to Northrop Grumman and Raytheon to build a 50-kilowatt-class laser weapon for Stryker combat vehicles for the Short-Range Air Defense (SHORAD) mission, according to an Aug. 1 statement from the service’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.
The two companies will build their respective directed-energy weapons as subcontractors to Kord Technologies. The Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, or RCCTO, entered into a $203 million agreement with Kord under the OTA, or other transaction authority, contracting mechanism that is used to rapidly fund the production of prototypes.
The contract could increase to $490 million for the delivery of four prototypes.
One of the laser weapon systems developed through the OTA could be integrated onto a platoon of four Stryker vehicles in fiscal 2022. But the Army is leaving competition open to any vendors that did not receive an OTA contract to compete using their own internal research and development dollars.
The Army is rapidly developing and fielding Manuever-SHORAD vehicles in response to an urgent need in Europe.
A year ago, the Army chose Leonardo DRS to integrate a mission equipment package that will include Raytheon’s Stinger vehicle missile launcher onto a Stryker as its M-SHORAD capability. General Dynamics Land Systems — which produces the Stryker — will be the platform integrator for the system. The final prototypes will be delivered to the service by the first quarter of FY20.
The directed-energy M-SHORAD capability will protect brigade combat teams from unmanned aircraft, helicopters, rockets, artillery and mortars.
“The time is now to get directed energy weapons to the battlefield,” Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director of hypersonics, directed energy, space and rapid acquisition, said in a statement. “The Army recognizes the need for directed energy lasers as part of the Army’s modernization plan. This is no longer a research effort or a demonstration effort. It is a strategic combat capability, and we are on the right path to get it in soldiers’ hands.”
The award marks progress toward the Army’s new strategy for accelerating and fielding directed-energy weapons.
The M-SHORAD laser weapon prototypes are part of a technology maturation effort — the Multi-Mission High Energy Laser.
The Army is also building a High Energy Laser Tactical Vehicle Demonstrator. While the laser for the demonstrator will be a 100-kilowatt-class laser on a Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles platform — developed by Dynetics and Lockheed Martin — the service aims to develop 250- to 300-kilowatt-class directed-energy weapons.
More powerful laser weapon systems will allow the services to protect against rockets, artillery, mortars and drones “as well as more stressing threats,” according to the release.
The Army plans to deliver prototypes of approximately that power onto tactical vehicles for the High Energy Laser Indirect Fire Protection Capability to a platoon by FY24.
“By teaming with the other services and our industry partners, we will not only save resources, but exponentially increase the power level and get a better system to soldiers faster,” Thurgood 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.