By Jason B. Cutshaw, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Public AffairsMay 5, 2016
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama -- Not so long ago in a state far, far away, members of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command demonstrated the High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck, or HELMTT, and the effectiveness of its laser during the 2016 Maneuver Fires Integration Experiment, or MFIX, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
The Fires Battle Laboratory at Fort Sill hosted MFIX 2016 April 11-22 and invited HELMTT to participate in the Maneuver Aviation Fires Integrated Application, or MAFIA, battle management network. This exercise provided the opportunity for the Army's directed energy technology to utilize the vehicle's capability to acquire, track, engage and destroy air and ground targets in a simulated tactical environment.
"HELMTT is the same vehicle as the former High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator with the same beam control system, same power and same command and control," said Adam Aberle, SMDC Technical Center HELMTT demonstrator program manager. "The goal of HELMTT is to integrate new and emerging component technology that supports a high energy laser system, then test and verify performance. One of the aspects of having an integrated laser system is learning how to employ and develop the tactics, techniques and procedures of operating it and do mission planning.
"MFIX created an environment where Soldiers are intimately involved with the systems that are out there," he added. "We integrated HELMTT for the first time into an Army command and control network and learned how a laser platform would operate in a relevant tactical environment."
The HELMTT beam director rotates 360 degrees to provide full sky coverage and extends above the roof of the vehicle to engage below-the-horizon targets.
The program objective is to demonstrate a rugged, mobile solid state laser system that meets the size, weight and performance needs of the Army. Currently HELMTT has a 10-kW laser mounted in it that can bring down an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, by heating up one of the parts that controls its flight until it melts. A high energy laser at higher power levels can provide force protection capabilities against rockets, artillery, mortars and cruise missiles.
"Our team did a great job," Aberle said. "We did a lot of preparation for testing the system for algorithm updates and seeing if we could track the airborne targets among ground clutter that the system was not originally designed to track. The team did a tremendous job leading up to the exercise and improving the system to be effective against the targets presented.
"We absolutely blew lots of stuff up," he added.
Prior to arriving at Fort Sill, members of the HELMTT technical team analyzed MFIX objectives, established system requirements for participation and defined required fixes and modifications to the vehicle.
"It was important for us to participate because we were able to demonstrate for the first a high energy laser pre-prototype weapon system at one of the Army's training centers," Aberle said. "The Army is looking for up and coming and emerging science and technology for the future. There is a need for short-range air defense and lasers are one of those technologies that will meet that need.
"And one thing we needed to learn is how can our system operates within an integrated air defense network," he added. "All of our testing, up to date, has really been in a controlled, test environment. For once, we were not the experiment executer, we were a participant and they provided us targets and scenarios we did not control. That was a benefit for us and we learned how to operate better in an unscripted environment."
HELMTT participated in MFIX 2016 to demonstrate its ability to acquire, track and successfully engage and destroy targets in a simulated tactical environment such as UAVs and remotely piloted target vehicles.
It also engaged static ground targets such as unmanned aerial system ground stations, laptops, small caliber projectiles, small arms and fuel containers.
"What is next for HEL MTT is the integration of the 60-kW laser, and we are working on an adaptive optics system to propagate a laser further through the atmosphere to correct for disturbances," Aberle said. "We want to upgrade the power and verify it does what theory says it should do. To put it in perspective, if you double the power, you half the engagement time."