Wednesday March 18, 2009
What is it?
A Joint solid state laser (SSL) Science & Technology effort executed by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command that has achieved weapon level (100kW+) performance in the laboratory. This accomplishment marks the first time that a SSL has achieved the level of performance required for weapon applications of interest to the Army. This device 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 also is expected to achieve 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.
What has the Army done?
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.
What continued efforts does the Army have planned for the future?
The Army is planning to move a 100kW SSL laboratory device to the Army-operated High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). This laser will then be coupled to an existing beam director to establish a SSL Testbed and begin field testing by 2011. The SSL Testbed 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.
Why is this important to the Army?
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.
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