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Raytheon delivers mobile 10kW laser weapon to US Air Force...

13 Jun 2023

...as Airforce Research Lab completes flight tests for directed energy laser system beam director.

In the fall of 2022, the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and Raytheon Technologies reported the successful testing of the Air Force’s first palletized high-energy laser weapon during four days of continuous live-fire exercises at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The new palletized laser weapon was the first 10-kilowatt laser built to U.S. military specifications in a stand-alone configuration that can be moved and mounted where needed. Known as H4, this is the fourth operational laser weapon system that Raytheon has delivered to the USAF and the eighth total system the company has delivered to the Department of Defense.

The laser weapon, designed to protect people and assets against short-range aerial threats, passed the USAF’s Test and Assessment plan. This included multiple days of live-fire exercises to acquire, target, track and destroy drone targets in short-range attack, swarm attack, and long-range threat scenarios.

“Anywhere the Air Force sees a threat from drones, they now have four proven laser weapons that can be deployed to stop asymmetrical threats,” commented Michael Hofle, senior director of High-Energy Lasers at Raytheon Technologies. “Whether at a fixed location, a flatbed truck or even a pickup, these laser weapons are compact, rugged and ready to go.”

Small enough to fit in the bed of a pickup truck, the laser weapon system comprises a high-energy laser weapon module, a long-range EO/IR sensor that also serves as the beam director, thermal control, internal electrical power, and targeting software—all packaged together for use in combat environments.

The system is operated with a laptop and a video game-style controller, and it can plug into a long list of existing air defense, and command and control systems to provide a needed layer of defense. The laser weapon system was built in the world's first laser weapon factory in McKinney, Texas, and delivered to the Life Cycle Management Center nine months after receipt of order.

AFRL completes flight tests for directed energy laser system beam director

The US Air Force Research Laboratory has completed a successful flight-test campaign for a new beam director concept that can be used with directed energy laser systems integrated onto aircraft.

The Hybrid Aero-Effect Reducing Design with Realistic Optical Components, or HARDROC, team, consisting of personnel from AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate here and Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, along with prime contractor MZA Associates, has developed and tested a low-power, sub-scale beam director to evaluate the ability of various aerodynamic flow control techniques to mitigate optical and mechanical distortions imparted on a laser beam leaving an airborne platform travelling at high speeds.

“The HARDROC beam director is a leap forward in technology to minimize aerodynamic degradations,” said Rudy Johnson, HARDROC program manager. “This series of flight tests demonstrated the effectiveness of flow control to reduce the aerodynamic effects on the beam director.”

The flow-control at the heart of HARDROC has been in development for several years by researchers at AFRL. “Using advanced computational fluid dynamic, or CFD, simulation techniques, we were able to demonstrate significant reduction in aero-effects across a wide range of speeds and look angles,” said Dr. Scott Sherer, CFD lead for the HARDROC program.

“We effectively utilized a substantial amount of computational hours provided by the Department of Defense High Performance Computing Modernization Office to establish which flow-control techniques could work, which techniques were worth pursuing and which were not.”

Dr. Mike Stanek, Technical Advisor for the Aerospace Systems Directorate’s Integrated Systems Branch, said, “The successful flight demonstration of the HARDROC turret clears one of the key remaining technological hurdles for operation of high-power lasers on high-speed aircraft for a variety of Air Force missions.

“Integration of the low-SWaP HARDROC turret would allow less laser power to be lost to aero-effects, thus enabling mission performance compared to other types of integration strategies,” said Dr. Stanek.

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