The U.S. Army could soon have a new weapon system in its arsenal to help defend soldiers during convoys and troop movements. It is a high-energy laser on an armored vehicle.
Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, received a $123 million contract for the Directed Energy Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense, or DE M-SHORAD, weapon systems. The DE M-SHORAD weapon system offers protection for maneuvering ground forces and equipment from threats such as unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS; rotary-wing aircraft; and rockets, artillery and mortars.
The prototype systems are integrated on Stryker combat vehicles that the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office will deliver to a unit of action at the platoon level in 2022.
“The U.S. Army is leading the charge to give soldiers the first-ever operational capability of a mobile high-energy laser weapon,” said Annabel Flores, vice president for Electronic Warfare Systems at RI&S. “Two years ago, the Army set a goal to deliver a powerful, maneuverable and proven laser system that was ready for operators to use in the field right away, and our team demonstrated that capability.”
RI&S is the major subcontractor to the prime contractor KBR/Kord Technologies and is the subsystem developer for the laser weapon module, beam director assembly and the radar acquisition system for the DE M-SHORAD weapon system.
The award follows a U.S. Army DE M-SHORAD exercise at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in summer 2021. RI&S-developed subsystems were assessed in a series of realistic scenarios designed to evaluate the performance of the prototype weapon system and demonstrate its technical maturity and readiness.
During the exercises, soldiers operated the system and effectively tracked, identified and engaged a variety of targets.
“In just a few days, soldiers went from training to operating the system and engaging targets to providing valuable feedback to our team that will help improve future systems,” Flores said.
Soldiers get virtual and hands-on training
Stryker crews composed of three-Soldiers each – a driver, crew commander and laser gunner – trained in DE M-SHORAD simulators in which they could do virtual walkthroughs of the entire vehicle and laser system, and practice firing at simulated targets.
“It wasn’t PowerPoint slides and tech manuals,” said Justin Martin, chief engineer for High-Energy Lasers at RI&S. “It was a very interactive training environment where they could immerse themselves into the vehicle and the laser design itself to really understand what was in the vehicle.”
The soldiers needed to start from scratch, learning about the basics of lasers, laser safety and how to operate the new weapon system. They spent a week in the virtual environment before participating in live fire drills.
“They weren’t touching controls or seeing anything that they hadn’t already immersed themselves in before virtually,” Martin said. “It helped that the laser gunners were able to use an actual videogame controller to operate the weapon – it’s something that young soldiers are very familiar with.”
The DE M-SHORAD weapon system combines a 50kW-class high energy laser, a beam director, an electro-optic/infrared target acquisition and tracking system, and a Ku720 multi-mission radar. This gives soldiers an effective counter-UAS system as well as provides counterintelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
“We made a combat prototype,” Martin said. “We didn’t just make a laser instrument for experimentation and research, but we built a well-integrated, robust laser weapon on a Stryker combat vehicle to be operated by soldiers. There will be four such Strykers ready to go and be used by brigade combat teams operationally.”