100 kW U.S. Army laser moves to White Sands for testing

Feb. 18, 2010
Redondo Beach, CA--What looks to be the world's most versatile military laser (in the opinion of this Laser Focus World editor) is continuing on its path to practicality.

Redondo Beach, CA--What looks to be the world's most versatile military laser (in the opinion of this Laser Focus World editor) is continuing on its path to practicality: the solid-state laser system from Northrop Grumman Corporation that produced the most powerful beam ever from a continuous-wave electric laser (more than 100 kW) last year will be brought together with other laser-weapons components for field tests at the Army's High Energy Laser System Test Facility (HELSTF) at White Sands Missile Range.

HELSTF has access to the 3,200 square miles of restricted land area and 7,000 square miles of restricted airspace at White Sands to conduct tests for propagation, lethality, survivability, and dynamic engagements.

In cooperation with the U.S. Army's Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, which operates the test range at White Sands, BAE Systems (Nashua, NH) has contracted with Northrop Grumman to relocate the Joint High Power Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) Phase 3 system from the company's laser factory in Redondo Beach to HELSTF. Field testing is expected to begin this year.

Adding beam control
The laser will be integrated with the beam-control and command-and-control systems from another Northrop Grumman-built system, the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), to provide the Army with the world's first high-power, Solid State Laser Testbed Experiment (SSLTE).

The SSLTE will be used to evaluate the capability of a 100 kW class solid-state laser to accomplish a variety of missions. Those results will be the basis for directing future development of solid-state lasers as a weapon system.

"Solid-state lasers have achieved militarily useful power levels and packaging densities," said Dan Wildt, vice president of Directed Energy Systems. "We have been demonstrating laser performance at HELSTF and other test sites for many years, unequivocally proving their lethality against a wide variety of potential threats." These include missiles of various sizes and speeds, helicopters, drones, rockets, artillery, mortar rounds, and submunitions.

Both the relocation of the JHPSSL Phase 3 device and the THEL facility refurbishment are being carried out under an Army contract with BAE Systems, which has overall responsibility for the SSLTE systems engineering and test planning. BAE Systems is also developing a modular and transportable enclosure to house the JHPSSL device and its control room at the site.

Under the JHPSSL program, Northrop Grumman became the first company to reach the 100 kW power level threshold for a solid-state laser. The achievement also included a turn-on time of less than one second and a continuous operating time of greater than five minutes, with very good efficiency and beam quality.

The JHPSSL program is funded by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology; Office of the Secretary of Defense--High Energy Laser Joint Technology Office (Albuquerque, NM); Air Force Research Laboratory (Kirtland Air Force Base, NM); and the Office of Naval Research (Arlington, VA). Responsibility for program execution is assigned to USASMDC/ARSTRAT (Huntsville, AL).

About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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