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US Army demonstrates first laser weapon in ‘combat shoot-off’…

18 Aug 2021

…and DoD awards Citadel Defense $6M contract for optics-driven counter drone system.

The U.S. Army is fielding next-generation capabilities to advance its Multi-Domain Operations and create standoff. This is clear with its approach to laser-based Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs). In the past 24 months, the Army has “harnessed the promise of lasers, integrated it onto a platform, and produced its first combat capable prototype,” it was announced this week.

Offering lethality against unmanned aircraft systems (UAS / drones) and rockets, artillery and mortars (RAM), laser weapons now increase Army air and missile defense capability while reducing total system lifecycle cost through reduced logistical demand.

During the summer of 2021, the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), alongside Air and Missile Defense Cross Functional Team, Fires Center of Excellence, and the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, took the laser-equipped Stryker fighting vehicle to Fort Sill, OK, as part of its Directed Energy-Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (DE M-SHORAD) Combat Shoot-Off.

Intended to help protect warfighters from UAS and RAM threats, the RCCTO is scheduled to deliver a platoon of four laser-equipped Strykers by Fiscal Year 2022.

“This is the first combat application of lasers for a maneuver element in the Army,” said LTG L. Neil Thurgood, Director for Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition, which includes the RCCTO. “The technology we have today is ready. This is a gateway to the future.”

Realistic scenarios

At the Combat Shoot-Off, the Stryker faced a number of realistic scenarios designed to establish, for the first time in the Army, the desired characteristics for future DE M-SHORAD systems.

“This has been an effort like no other,” said COL G. Scott McLeod, the RCCTO program manager for DE M-SHORAD. “We are building and delivering a brand new capability. This is not a modification or an upgrade. It took just 24 months for the combined government and industry team to design, integrate, and have it ready to perform in an operational environment.”

The DE M-SHORAD prototyping effort is part of the Army’s larger modernization strategy for air and missile defense. The Combat Shoot-Off, which ended in late July, trained soldiers to operate the new defensive weapon. Within days, they were operating the system, demonstrating proficiency in target acquisition, aim point selection, and engagements.

A soldier-centered design approach, adopted throughout the prototyping effort, is reflected in several ways. For example, when it came time to train, soldiers operating the system suggested using commercial gaming controllers as an improvement over the standard controller.

They utilized three-dimensional models of the Strykers on a handheld device so they could virtually walk through the system in “X-ray mode” to dissect the parts and pieces. This approach also offered online access to the system’s training manuals, measurements and dimensions, and interactive modules.

Rapid prototyping

The Combat Shoot-Off culminated with soldiers executing a series of vignettes designed to emulate realistic threats and combat scenarios. The DE M-SHORAD weapon system demonstrated the design characteristics and performance criteria established for the program, representing a major step in prototype completion in time for a fielding in FY22.

“This event marked a key milestone and is a great example of rapid prototyping,” said Dr. Craig Robin, deputy director of the RCCTO’s DE Project Office. “For the first time, we had a combat capable laser out on the range performing against realistic threats.

“We know it is not going to be perfect, but we will continue to work with Soldiers to incorporate their feedback and lessons learned from this assessment into the design to help inform future directed energy systems.”

“This is a prototype and we are going to learn from this,” Thurgood added. “We needed this to do two things: design it so it is safe enough to give to soldiers and make sure it engages with the target it needed to. The science project in this technology is over. It’s time to give our soldiers this first-ever operational capability.”

US DoD awards Citadel Defense $6M contract for integrated counter drone system

Citadel Defense has been awarded a sole source contract for $6M from an undisclosed U.S. Department of Defense customer to build and deploy an AI-powered counter drone solution. The system will be deployed at “sensitive government locations” and operated by non-specialist military personnel and first responders.

The solution is designed to autonomously detect, classify, track, and defeat unwanted unmanned aerial systems (UASs) using whatt he partners describe as “artificial intelligence, machine learning, and sensor fusion.”

Christopher Williams, CEO of Citadel Defense, commented, “We have worked with strategic partners to develop a highly integrated and scalable solution that counters armed and surveillance UAS compromising national security missions.”

Citadel develops AI-powered counter-UAS solutions. The fusion of combat-proven radar, optics, and electronic warfare sensors into an intuitive user display gives military, government, and commercial customers a solution that safely clears the airspace of hostile drones.

“The first set of integrated systems will be deployed at multiple locations over the next three months,” added Williams.

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