100kW Solid-State Laser to be Transferred to HELSTF for Field Tests

By Mr. John Cummings (SMDC/ARSTRAT)February 19, 2010

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Laser Integrating Structure Assembly View With Access Panels Removed
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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - The Army's High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility will take a major step in establishing a Solid State Laser Testbed Experiment with the addition of a high power solid state laser to the facility.

The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, which operates HELSTF on White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, has contracted through BAE Systems with Northrop Grumman to relocate the Joint High Power Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) Phase 3 system from the company's laser facility in Redondo Beach, Calif., to HELSTF. Field testing is expected to begin this year.

JHPSSL is a Joint solid state laser Science & Technology effort executed by USASMDC/ARSTRAT that achieved weapon level (100kW+) performance in the laboratory. This accomplishment marked the first time that a SSL achieved the level of performance required for weapon applications of interest to the Army. This device, built by Northrop Grumman, is one of two SSL laboratory devices being developed in cooperation with the High Energy Laser Joint Technology Office and other services. The second device, being built by Textron Corp., also achieved 100 kW performance this year. A 100kW laser can rapidly heat a target causing various catastrophic effects, such as exploding a warhead or airframe failure.

"Northrop proved that a laser powered by electricity could generate a beam powerful enough to destroy targets in the battlefield," said Dr. Brian Strickland, the Army's manager for JHPSSL. "With this major hurdle overcome, the next step would be to take the laser from the laboratory to the field and begin shooting down missiles with it," Strickland continued.

HELSTF offers extensive capabilities and infrastructure for testing a wide array of laser technology programs and weapons. Located at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., HELSTF has access to WSMR's 3,200 square miles of restricted land area and 7,000 square miles of restricted airspace in which to conduct static and dynamic live fire, lethality, vulnerability, and material interaction testing. HELSTF, a DoD MRTFB activity, is an approved above-the-horizon high energy laser (HEL) test range and has a close working relationship with the Laser Clearinghouse.

"The SSLTE offers a great opportunity for HELSTF to take the lead establishing itself as the range of choice for Directed Energy testing," said Col. James Jaworski, director of HELSTF. "HELSTF is the only open range capable of providing the DoD with true target lethality and vulnerability parameters at tactically relevant ranges and environments, and at HEL weapon system power levels," Jaworski continued. "This will build the foundation to provide the warfighter with a new and substantial capability."

When the 100kW SSL laboratory device is relocated to HELSTF, the laser will be coupled to an existing beam director to establish a Solid State Laser Testbed Experiment. The SSLTE will be utilized to test and evaluate the SSL capability, with scalable power up to a 100kW, to accomplish a variety of missions of interest to the Army. The results of these tests will be the basis for directing future development of SSLs as a weapon system.

For more than thirty years, the Army and other DOD organizations have developed and tested a variety of directed energy devices, including both chemical and solid state lasers. High-power chemical lasers proved to be successful in testing against rockets, artillery and mortars (RAM), but used chemical fuels that would cause a large logistical burden for the warfighter. In 2005 the Army decided to focus on all-electric SSLs as the lower cost high energy laser (HEL) path to the future, with the only consumable being diesel fuel for electric generators.

When weaponized, a 100kW class SSL will be capable of protecting the warfighter against RAM threats and unmanned aerial systems. Other mission applications for scalable high power SSLs include stand-off negation of unexploded ordnance and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), anti-sensor applications, and precision strike with minimal collateral damage.