Army lasers, which previously had between 5 to 10 kilowatt strength, will be amplified to 50 to 100 kW weapons that could char helicopters and even small, fixed-wing aircraft, reports Breaking Defense.
A truck-fired 50 kW weapon, an upgrade of the 10 kW HEL-MTT, will be tested next-year, while an 100 kW weapon on mobile vehicle is scheduled to test-fire in 2022. The Army plans to award a contract for that by October 1.
These high-power laser beams may also be able to misdirect cruise missiles, although it is unlikely they could degrade the missiles’ heat shield sufficiently.
“I don’t think 100 kW would be enough to zap cruise missiles out of the sky, [but] 100 kW — and even lower — may be sufficient to blind/degrade some weapon sensors,” Mark Gunzinger, of the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments told Breaking Defense.
The 50 kW weapon will “obviously have a little more range, a little more power, a little better beam control,” said Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, chief of Army Space & Missile Defense Command (SMDC.).
“There are quite a few targets 60-100 kW lasers could be used to degrade or defeat, including rockets, artillery rounds, some missiles, UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), etc.,” Gunzinger told me in an email. “We are talking short ranges for ground-based 100 kW-class lasers to achieve ‘burn-through’ kills on UAVs or rockets, [but] sometimes a functional kill — blinding or burning out a sensor a weapon uses for final guidance to a target — is good enough.”
The Army hopes to create a common platform and equip the high-powered laser on widely used vehicles.