By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianAugust 3, 2016
In 1974, Congress directed the Department of Defense, or DoD, to establish a national, tri-service high energy laser facility. This new facility would consolidate equipment and laser research conducted at various government and contractor facilities.
On Aug. 4, 1975, in U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command history, the House Armed Services Committee agreed that a DoD committee would select a site for a High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility, or HELSTF.
After much consideration, the Multifunction Array Radar, or MAR, facility located on White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, was selected in 1981 as the site for the new HELSTF.
The MAR had been developed as part of a city-based missile defense concept by the NIKE-X Project Office, a predecessor to USASMDC/ARSTRAT in the 1960s. When the anti-ballistic missile deployment shifted from the Sentinel to the Safeguard format, the MAR was no longer needed.
In the 1970s, however, its unique design -- steel shielding and extensive below-ground space -- made the MAR most suitable for a conversion.
Described as the shape of the future for WSMR in 1980, ground was finally broken for the HELSTF complex on March 26, 1981. Almost two years later, on Jan. 17, 1983, WSMR hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony marking the end of the first phase of construction.
Ten years after the site selection search began, HELSTF achieved operational status on Sept. 6, 1985 as the Air Force conducted the first lethality and hardening program test for the then Strategic Defense Initiative Organization.