By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianJuly 7, 2016
In April 2016, the High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of a tactical laser in a series of at the Maneuver Fires Integration Experiment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Today we can mark an important date in the history of the Army and this command's directed energy programs. On July 7, 1999, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, or JROC, approved the Joint Theater Air and Missile Defense, or JTAMD, Mission Needs Statement.
This said however, what does it actually mean? The JROC is an advisory board to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired by the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and composed of flag officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Their mission it to provide assistance to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by "identifying, assessing, and validating joint military requirements to meet the National Military Strategy."
As the overseer of the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System, the JROC plays a significant role in the acquisition process. As such, the JROC's responsibilities are three-fold, to "(1) Identify and assess the priority of joint military requirements; (2) Consider alternatives to acquisition programs; and (3) Assign priority among military programs, ensuring priorities reflect resource levels."
A mission needs statement meanwhile identified a deficiency or a capability gap within a given situation, geographic area and operational environment which could hinder or negate the ability to achieve a particular mission or strategic goal. It can establish a requirement for a capability (e.g. more bandwidth), a technology (e.g. equipment to address a particular obstacle), or even specialized training.
In this particular case, the JTAMD Mission Needs Statement, or MNS, identified four primary deficiencies and concluded that, "current joint air and missile defense measures do not adequately protect friendly forces from the very short range missiles, rockets, mortars, and artillery threat."
To improve both Soldier and systems survivability on the battlefield, it recommended "utilizing a broad spectrum of advanced weapon technologies." Included among these were high energy laser technologies which as the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, or USASMDC/ARSTRAT, later observed "may have unique application to this aspect of the JTAMD MNS because of their rapid response and low cost per shot characteristics."
In a related area, in May 2000, the JROC approved the Enhanced Area Air Defense Concept, which also incorporated the potential use of directed energy systems, observing that it fell within in the JTAMD mission needs statement. The concept was defined as "a suite of capabilities using advanced [directed energy] and/or [kinetic energy] technologies mounted on Army common platforms providing cost-effective kill mechanisms for protecting tactical and operational forces from rockets, mortars, artillery projectiles, [unmanned aerial vehicles], and other air and missile threats."
As these formal operational requirements evolved, USASMDC/ARSTRAT and the Army were able to fund new programs such as the High Energy Laser Systems - Tactical Army also known as HELSTAR "to create a more lightweight, mobile system to protect the maneuver force."
According to period reports from 2000, four separate technologies were initially in competition for the HELSTAR: the tactical high energy laser, a solid-state fiber optic laser, small chemical lasers and an electro chemical-chemical oxygen iodine laser.