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Army Planning Competition To Test New Laser Weapons

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The Army will be hosting a showdown soon as part of its plan to put laser weapons on the battlefield by 2022.

The upcoming “lase-off” between Northrop Grumman and Raytheon will determine which company will get the contract for 50-kilowatt laser weapons that will be mounted on the Army’s Stryker vehicles, Fox News reported Tuesday.

“Under the terms of the contract, the two laser vendors have approximately one year to produce the required laser subsystems, integrate them onto the Stryker platform, and complete a competitive performance checkout leading into a range demonstration against various threats,” the Army said this summer in announcing the selection of the companies.

The Army’s goal is to have a laser that can destroy drones, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and incoming missiles that are sent to kill U.S. troops.

“The time is now to get directed energy weapons to the battlefield,” Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director of hypersonics, directed energy, space and rapid acquisition, said in a statement.

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“The Army recognizes the need for directed energy lasers as part of the Army’s modernization plan. This is no longer a research effort or a demonstration effort. It is a strategic combat capability, and we are on the right path to get it in soldiers’ hands,” he said.

Craig Robin, Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office senior research scientist for directed energy applications, said, “Both the Army and commercial industry have made substantial improvements in the efficiency of high energy lasers — to the point where we can get militarily significant laser power onto a tactically relevant platform.

“Now, we are in position to quickly prototype, compete for the best solution, and deliver to a combat unit.”

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Mark Skinner, vice president of directed energy for Northrop Grumman, touted the capability of his company’s product.

“It is all about the ability to put photons on target. It is a system that can be deployed rapidly from a stowed position. It can engage an enemy at the speed of light. It has to be able to shoot from a moving platform and engage a moving target through an air column that can be full of rain, dust or turbulence — and hold that energy on target long enough to get the desired effect,” Skinner told Fox News.

He said the laser system will be highly portable in the field.

“The logistics train associated with laser weapons is minimal. Once you install the system and you can generate electricity, then you have a weapon system,” Skinner said last month, according to Military.com.

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Although lasers have been in existence for years, Skinner said the new generation of laser weapons are both safe for the people operating them and deadly for their targets.

“In the past, we used chemical lasers, which were dangerous. You had to handle a dangerous chemical to generate a laser beam. And then we went to … a solid-state slab laser, but they were fairly inefficient,” he said. “Today, we operate with solid-state fiber-optic lasers, which gives us the ability to safely operate the system, and yet at a high efficiency we can convert electrical energy into photons. It gives us the best of both worlds.”

“We are on track to deliver a laser next year and support the Army’s effort to build a platoon of laser-combat-capable Strykers,” Skinner said.

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Martin recently said the Army is moving swiftly to modernize but will need money to get the job done right.

“All the modernization priorities are doing very well,” Martin said, according to Fox News. “We’re seeing the progress that we need to right now. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We need to continue to have consistent funding; without consistent funding, requirements can be requirements, but they’ll never turn into material that we develop.”

Fox reported that the Army expects to conduct the laser-off in 2021 and deploy the weapons a year later.

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