No, the military doesn’t build the Death Star.
Unlike in the movies, the directed energy doesn’t emit a big red laser, or make a loud noise, and if done right, the target will simply fall from the sky, not explode into shards of brilliant lights, set to a John Williams score.
But that’s not to say directed energy isn’t making remarkable progress in record time. Take Directed Energy Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense, or DE M-SHORAD. The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, and the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office have teamed up with industry partners to build the next-generation laser weapon. And they did it in less than three years.
“DE M-SHORAD is a 50 kilowatt class laser weapon system on a Stryker vehicle,” said Damon Templet, DEVCOM AvMC Software Manager for DE M-SHORAD. “In simple terms, we have an on-board thermal and electrical system that dissipates heat and recharges the system’s batteries. The laser is drawn from the batteries. The beam exits from a roof-mounted beam director. If you grew up on “Star Wars,” it’s a little disappointing to learn that the beam makes no sound and isn’t visible to the eye. A tracking system places the laser beam on a target, then the optimal aiming point is maintained until the track is neutralized.
The system does not tow a trailer and does not have a dedicated support vehicle. Everything needed is mounted on the truck, giving it an agility advantage over older systems. Another key feature of DE M-SHORAD is that it is more cost effective than firing multiple high cost missiles at low value targets.
“Cost is a huge advantage,” Templet said. “It costs about a gallon of diesel fuel to take you
your UAS with a DE system. Compare that to firing high dollar missiles against a $2,000 drone. One of the big advantages we talk about in the DE world is a significantly reduced logistics track. We don’t need large warehouses to store large quantities of missiles and rockets. We do not need to transport and maintain large amounts of ammunition. A DE weapon system does not run out of ammo. If there is fuel in the tank to recharge the batteries, the system is ready to defend itself.
AvMC’s Technology Development Branch and Software, Simulation, Systems Engineering, and Integration Branch provide the RCCTO with software and requirements verification, test support and analysis, and support for system integration issues. AvMC also manages and operates a government DE lab that performs verification and validation of M-SHORAD DE software.
The system is continually improved through soldier touchpoints and live fire test events. The RCCTO will deliver a platoon of four vehicles and begin training on new equipment for soldiers in the coming months.
“As you can imagine, the unit is very excited about this,” Templet said.
Huntsville, Alabama is quickly becoming a hub of directed energy development. For Templet, DE M-SHORAD is not just a new weapon system, it is very personal. Before becoming an engineer, he was a soldier.
“I know how horrible it is as a soldier to see enemy munitions flying over your position or exploding over your head and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Templet said. “At a DE event a few years ago, young soldiers told me about trying to fire M-16s at enemy drones.
“DE provides an extra layer of protection for our Warfighters. We owe them that.