The problem with the current iterations of combat laser prototypes is they can easily be foiled by suspended condensation, smoke, fog and other obscurants that deflect and diffract the beam as its en-route to its target. The HEL MD, however, proved earlier this year that the solution is simple: Just increase the power of the laser enough to burn through everything — including incoming mortar rounds.
The current 10kW version of the truck-mounted prototype relies on a battery of li-ion batteries continually replenished by a 60kW diesel generator, allowing it to operate as long as the truck remains fuelled.
“As proven at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in 2013 and at Eglin Air Force Base this spring, HEL MD is reliable and capable of consistently acquiring, tracking and engaging a variety of targets in different environments, demonstrating the potential military utility of directed energy systems,” Boeing Directed Energy Systems director Dave DeYoung said in a press statement. “With only the cost of diesel fuel, the laser system can fire repeatedly without expending valuable munitions or additional manpower.”
Interestingly, the power output necessary to accomplish this feat is quite low. The 10kW beam used in recent tests at Eglin AFB in Florida — where it successfully burned incoming mortar and drone threats out of the sky despite a think layer of low-lying fog — is the same solid-state laser that the army showed off back in 2013. I would have expected the task to require at least the 50kW turret that the Army unveiled earlier this year.
Still, the success of these tests demonstrate that the technology can (and now likely will) be adapted for maritime combat as well. Just imagine, the next generation of US warships equipped with laser cannons and railguns. Scary stuff. [Wired – Army Tech]