An artist's rendition of how a US Army laser mounted on an 8×8 Stryker armored vehicle would work. Credit: US Army.

The US Army’s quest for an effective laser weapon for use on the battlefield may actually be coming about soon.

After years of field tests and more than one thousand hours of soldier feedback, the Army is on track to field-test two different types of high-energy lasers in 2022 — a 50-kilowatt weapon to destroy enemy drones and incoming artillery rockets, and a 300-kW weapon that could potentially shoot down cruise missiles, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. of Breaking Defense reported.

Key components are now under construction for both systems, says Craig Robin, the directed energy chief at the Rapid Capabilities & Critical Technologies Office, adding that the service plans many more “soldier touch points” to come on both programs, especially once the prototypes are built and available for field tests.

Furthest along is the 50-kilowatt laser, to be mounted on an 8×8 Stryker armored vehicle.

It’s known in Army jargon as DE-MSHORAD (Directed Energy – Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense). It’s hoped that four prototype laser Strykers – a full platoon – will be fielded to an actual combat unit in 2022, Breaking Defense reported.

“That’s real hardware being built now,” Robin said. “The laser weapon hardware exists now; we expect to have them integrated on the vehicles by the end of December.”

It’s hoped that four prototype laser Strykers – a full platoon – will be fielded to an actual combat unit in 2022. Credit: Northrop Grumman.

In fact, there are two competing lasers being built for DE-MSHORAD, one by Northrop Grumman and the other by Raytheon, Breaking Defense reported.

Each of those lasers will be integrated onto a different Stryker for a “shoot off” – officially, a “performance characterization” – at Fort Sill, Okla. in May 2021, when real soldiers will put both weapons through their paces in a realistic combat scenarios.

According to Robin, troops’ input in lower powered Stryker mounted field tests, brainstorming sessions and reviews of CAD designs, helped refine everything from the user interface controlling the weapon, to how equipment should be installed inside the Stryker so the crew wouldn’t hit it scrambling in and out, Breaking Defense reported. 

The Strykers, being off-road armored vehicles, are intended to follow the frontline M1 tanks and Bradley troop carriers. At the same time, the Army is also developing a second echelon of larger lasers mounted on heavy trucks, which trade Stryker’s mobility and protection for sheer carrying capacity.

Starting with a truck-mounted 10-kilowatt weapon in 2012, the Army first proposed a 100-kW model and then – boosted by a collaboration with the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) – decided to go for 300 kW.

“We’re on track to demo the 300-kW system at the end of 2022,” Robin said, probably around August or September.

Critical Design Review is complete and “we’re starting to bend metal,” he said. “We’re moving out and starting to build that demonstrator now, along with OSD.”

If the 2022 demonstration shots go well — and the soldiers’ feedback is positive — the Army plans to build and field four HEL-IFPC laser trucks as a combat unit in 2024.