The U.S. Army is moving closer to putting high-energy laser weapons on individual vehicles to improve its short-range air defense capabilities. The weapons meet the Army’s need for counter-rocket, artillery and mortar fire and protection for unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned aircraft systems—the latter of which is particularly important, given their abundance. Laser systems offer substantially lower cost per fire than traditional weapons, and their stealth firing characteristics make them valuable countermeasures for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations.
For the Air Force, the daily use of a laser as a weapon itself is coming. The youngest of the U.S. military services, founded more than a decade before the laser’s invention, is looking to incorporate the high-energy systems into its warfighting arsenal.
For 40 years, the Star Wars Death Star has been one of science fiction’s most iconic figures. But scientists and laser experts held that its superbeam could never work because of the properties of lasers—theory says that the beams would just pass through one another, not converge and combine their energy.
That’s all about to change. A team of researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has added a plasma—a charged mixture of ions and free electrons—to the concept and successfully combined several separate lasers into a superlaser.
The High-Repetition-Rate Advanced Petawatt Laser System (HAPLS) being developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory recently completed a significant milestone: demonstration of continuous operation of an all-diode-pumped, high-energy femtosecond petawatt laser system. The system now is ready for delivery and integration at the European Extreme Light Infrastructure Beamlines (ELI Beamlines) facility project in the Czech Republic, where it will be used for conducting experiments.
Each of the U.S. military services and the Special Operations Command plan to field laser weapons in the coming years. But Lockheed Martin officials say they could deliver now a 30-kilowatt weapon system—powerful enough to bore a hole in a steel plate within seconds—if the military asks.
Leidos Inc. S&R and Intelligence Systems Services, Reston, Virginia, was awarded on May 29, 2015, a not-to-exceed $7 million indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for laser interaction testing. Contractor will provide well-controlled experimental procedures to quantify the effects of high power continuous-wave (up to MW Class) and high energy pulsed (kJ) lasers interacting with individual materials, multi-material subsystems, and/or fully functional targets. Work will be performed at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, and is expected to be complete by May 28, 2020. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition with six offers received.
Logos Technologies, Fairfax, Virginia, in partnership with the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, has received an award to design, build and install a sophisticated high-energy laser at the Washington State University-led Dynamic Compression Sector at the Advanced Photon Source, Argonne National Laboratory. The Logos Technologies-led team will provide a laser-driven shock compression capability to produce high pressure, short duration shock waves.
Boeing Defense, Space and Security, Orlando, Fla., will provide the U.S. Air Force with a lightweight, compact laser targeting system designed to improve the effectiveness of battlefield airmen on Close Air Support missions. The $3 million contract award includes design, development, delivery, training and sustainment for the Line of Sight – Short (LOS-S) integrated targeting system, as well as priced options for production systems. With all options exercised, the contract has a potential total value of more than $100 million.
Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University have discovered methods to control folding pathways and enable sequential folding on a millimeter scale using a low-intensity laser beam. Lasers at a low intensity worked as a trigger for tagging applications. Developers are fabricating sheets of millimeter-size structures that serve as battery-free wireless actuators that fold when exposed to a laser operating at eye-safe infrared wavelengths. The metallic structures may respond even to high-powered LED lighting.
The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Soldier delivered 300 sets of the AN/PSQ-20 Enhanced Night Vision Goggles (ENVG) to the 10th Mountain Division, the first unit other than special forces to receive them. The ENVG incorporates image intensification and long-wave infrared sensors into a single integrated system. It has a thermal camera that increases mobility and situational awareness regardless of light, weather or battlefield conditions, and it offers faster threat recognition.
With the war in Afghanistan winding down, the U.S. Defense Department’s rapid deployment office, which specializes in identifying, developing and quickly fielding game-changing technologies, now will take a more long-term approach. Slightly stretching out the process will offer more flexibility to procure the best possible systems, will present more opportunities for interagency and international cooperation and may cut costs.
U.S. Army researchers have developed micro materials that fold when hit with a low-intensity laser. The advance may eliminate the need for relatively bulky power systems—such as battery packs—on tiny robotic systems. It also could enable robotic microthrusters, unattended ground sensors, or even—theoretically—programmable, easily changeable camouflage patterns.
The microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are shaped like stars with four, six or eight legs. The legs fold—like origami—when heated slightly with light from a low-level laser. That folding action is accomplished without the materials being tethered to batteries, wires or other any other power supply.
Future conflicts likely will be fought in degraded information technology environments, which will require the U.S. Navy to develop and exploit new capabilities to continue to operate in contested cyberspace. Technologies such as a flexible information grid, assured timing services and directed energy weapons must be part of the naval information system arsenal if the sea service is to maintain information dominance through the year 2028.