US Air Force integrates its first high-energy laser weapon systems

WASHINGTON, (BM) – The US Air Force Strategic Planning and Experimental Development Bureau (SDPE) will conduct field trials of the first high-energy laser weapon system at Wright-Patterson, Ohio Air Base, learned according Edwards Air Force Test Center aerospace website.

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It is reported that the author of the project is the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Tests must be completed within 12 months.

“The command will use this system as an operational asset against small unmanned aerial systems during the field assessment,” said Dr. Michael Girgis, director of the base defense’s SDPE experiment.

Five systems will be tested by the Air Force during a 12-month field assessment. It is also reported that the first evaluation of the system took place in January 2018, when Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Stephen Wilson asked the Air Force command to experiment with directional energy systems as an attempt to change the situation on a hypothetical battlefield.

The Air Force will be evaluating Raytheon’s high-energy laser – HELWS, Raytheon’s high-energy microwave cannon – PHASER, and the THOR unmanned aerial system developed by AFRL.

AFRL is particularly interested in evaluating THOR as it was developed on its own.

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“Drones are becoming more common and can be used as weapons designed to harm our military bases at long distances. We created the THOR weapon system as a defense against this type of threat. THOR with its technology can quickly destroy a swarm of drones. This ability will make a valuable contribution to the battlefield and for national defense,” said Dr. Kelly Hammett, director of AFRL’s High Energy Division.

In accordance with the current field assessment, SDPE successfully conducted laser and high-power microwave testing experiments in the fall of 2018 at the White Sands missile test site in New Mexico and in the fall of 2019 at the MFIX experimental maneuver firing in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

According to Girgis, the next 12 months will allow AFRL to determine how the Air Force wants to move forward, using both high-energy lasers and powerful microwaves against small drones.

Recall that the HELWS laser weapon system was developed by defense contractor Raytheon on the basis of the Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicle. The laser is paired with an advanced electro-optical / infrared sensor designed to detect, identify and track drones. The system can operate from a conventional 220-volt outlet and is designed for several dozen shots on a single charge. HELWS multispectral targeting system is used in the tracking systems on the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones.

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The PHASER high-energy microwave gun, which is mounted in a transport container, is also the brainchild of Raytheon. Thanks to the conical shape of the beam, PHASER can hit several targets at once with one pulse. The THOR system was developed by specialists from the US Air Force AFRL. This electromagnetic weapon, designed to counter groups of drones, also comes in a shipping container. Its setup takes three hours.


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