Navy Tests New Vehicle-Mounted Laser Weapon

GBAD graphic II

The Office of Naval Research is testing a solid-state, vehicle-mounted laser weapon designed to incinerate a range of air and ground targets such as enemy drones, rockets and even IEDs, service officials told Military.com.

“Air defense covers rockets, artillery, mortars, UAVs, vehicles and IEDs – anything you can kill with a laser. This program is focused on going after the UAV threat. As we move into the future that broader threat set is fair game,” said Lee Mastroianni, program manager for the so-called Ground-Based Air Defense Directed Energy On-the-Move Program, or GBAD,

Using volumetric radar, command and control systems and a laser kill platform, the GBAD is a small, compact mobile weapons system designed to integrate onto a HMMWV or Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, said Mastroianni.
The GBAD is being prepared for a 10-kilowatt laser weapon demonstration in February of next year, Mastroianni explained.

Upcoming demonstrations are likely to be held at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va., China Lake, Calif., or White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

“We’ve already done a demo detecting the passing of information to the laser kill platform and tracking and targeting,” he said. “In February we will be doing an end-to-end demonstration using surrogate technologies.
“As we move into 2016 and 2017, we’ll be working with our objective laser of 30-kilowatts and moving toward actual on-the-move targets. We will move around the battlespace to identify, track and mitigate the targets.”

The ONR research and development program for the GBAD is slated to finish up by 2017 in order to transition the effort to the Marine Corps. At this point, the plans are to then move the program into an Engineering Manufacturing and Development, or EMD, acquisition phase before heading toward formal production and delivery for operational use.

Engineering a small, mobile laser weapon of this kind presents a number of technical challenges such as how to sufficiently power and cool the system, Mastroianni added.

“We are operationalizing lasers that have been in development. The ruggedization, packaging, power and cooling – getting everything into an end-to-end system is where the big leap ahead is,” he said.
“Power and cooling are two of the larger challenges in order to get rid of all the excess heat. The laser itself is really small.”

The weapon is designed to provide maneuvering land units with high-tech, low-cost options to destroy targets such as nearby enemy UAVs. Mastroianni explained that solid-state laser technology converts electricity into photons or diodes which fill up the laser cavity, directing heat energy toward targets.

“This heats up targets. You get a tremendous amount of heat in one location that can cause a number of failures in the material and structure of a target – from burning to melting. This puts a lot of heat into a small area. From a cost-curve perspective this is a more efficient and effective way to go after targets,” he added.

The laser weapon would be lower-cost than using missiles or guns to attack threats such as an enemy UAS. Also, because the weapon relies purely upon electricity, it would be easier to transport than other kinds of ammunition.

The volumetric search radar provides the command and control system with a 360-degree area of coverage, allowing the fire control system to pinpoint targets for the weapon. The system is designed to ensure there is a “man-in-the-loop” to decide about when to fire on identified targets, he explained.

The ONR effort has called upon input from previous investments, studies and technology development initiatives including work by DoD’s High Energy Laser Joint Technology Office, MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, Penn State Electro-Optics Center and the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

Mastroianni said that the ONR is closely coordinating its developmental efforts with the Army’s laser program with a mind to how best to leverage the technology for the future.

“As technologies continue to evolve, we can put more power into the laser. This is the first major step toward operationalizing a system,” Mastroianni said.
“The Army has its High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator which is a high-powered, big system. We are dealing with a smaller compact system. Somewhere in the middle is where we will probably meet.”
ONR continues to work closely with industry on the development of the GBAD system, awarding contracts to as many as seven different vendors.

The contracts include a $10.7 million deal with Raytheon, $6 million deal with L-3, $400,000 deal with the Navitas Advanced Solutions Group, $1.1 million with Advanced Cooling Technologies, $2.2 million with Saze Technologies, $1 million with Equinox Corporation and a $1.1 million deal with Leidos.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Peter Miles

    Not totally convinced that this isn’t another technological step too far. The targeting system I can see value in but does the laser really do anything that you cant do with a .50 bullet with greater reliability?

    • JLC

      You are going to shoot down a rocket or high flying drone with a .50 cal??? I am impressed.

    • shatto

      Range.
      And waste.
      You’ve seen videos of machine and Gatling guns shooting-up the countryside to finally hit the target.

    • Mike Allen

      Put the Laser Turret on top of our Battle Tanks to blind and take out anti tank Helicopter Gunships. Tank have long needed an anti air weapon.

    • Hect

      Accuracy and speed. You wouldn’t have to give shots a lead with a laser. By defintion, it travels at the SPEED OF LIGHT.

  • Kostas

    My question is hiw effective lasers would be against targets covered with reflective materials. We know that mirrors for lasers exist….

    • erer

      This is almost farcical. First of all, it’s not like reflective surface = total immunity. Mirrors don’t reflect 100% of light. That said, it would be totally worth fielding lasers if it meant that all adversaries invested huge costs to mirror all their missiles and aircraft (and maybe their ships and land vehicles too), and then presented the shiniest possible targets to non-laser weapons.

      • citanon

        Not to mention that there are not that many good mid-IR reflecting materials.

    • platypusfriend

      Theoretically, a reflective surface would reflect some energy and absorb some energy (depending on the mirror), so a “mirror” COULD reduce a laser’s ability to transfer heat to the target.

      • John Deere

        A high energy laser would burn a hole through a mirror in less than a heart beat.

        • rtsy

          There are forms of optical and infrared shielding that could negate these weapons, metamaterials and the like. No ones weaponized them however, at least not publicly.

        • http://twitter.com/gregorypierce @gregorypierce

          Yeah. I think that’s the issue that people are still grasping with. There is this “high school science” understanding of a laser which could simple be reflected with a laser – but we’re talking about a LOT of energy and heat and that’s not easily dispersed by just strapping on a reflective surface.

    • Bernard

      Mirrors are frequency specific deafeating them would be easy. Intermussent paint is better. It absorbs heat and bubbles up keeping things cool.

      • derp

        Ablative materials would still push the projectile off course as they boiled or flaked away.

        There are a lot of applications here for Metamaterials that could channel the light and heat of the laser around the object leaving it unharmed.

  • rtsy

    Gonna need some awfully big batteries for this.

    • derp

      I agree, despite the haters.

      The laser they are making could fire for 2 minutes on a full battery charge, and then take another 20 minutes to recharge to 80%.

      That’s enough to defeat a few rounds in perfect conditions, but any sustained attack and this system is just extra weight.

    • doctordave777

      No way. Just hook the vehicle up with a cable …..

  • Kostas

    Atmospheric humidity+reflective materials+ minimal maneuverability would make this system effective only against the micro-/mini-UAVs. If the enemy has these UAVs, he would also have systems to identify the source of the laser and therefore the location of our troops and therefore his reconnaissance mission with the UAV would have succeeded. By the way the laser vehicle should be well armored to withstand the bomblet carrying munitions that the enemy would send its way…

    • blight_ikem

      No more so than the various surface to air missile systems, which tend to not be very well protected at all. Humvee Avenger, Bradley Linebacker, Russian Tunguska, ZSU- and other systems aren’t exactly main battle tanks…

    • Kostas

      What is the main purpose of UAVs? Reconnaissance. By lighting up a laser for several seconds you show the enemy with pinpoint accuracy the location of the friendly forces. The enemy would just have to develop some cheap decoys to lure the laser to hit the decoy (believing it to be a fully functional UAV). A cheap sensor further back would detect the laser beam. The more kW on the beam the longer the distance of the stand off sensor to locate it.

      Now lets go to the effectiveness of the system against munitions. It might be effective against straight, predictable trajectories of relative slow munitions in a clear day. But how about saturation attacks? How many seconds would it take for the system to destroy a munition? How about having special insensitive explosive that would not detonate by the heat of the laser even if it penetrates the casing? How about employing a random spiral trajectory that would have minimal effects on the kinetic energy of the munition but would make its engagement very difficult for the laser? How about advanced reflective materials (Iet alone plasma shields) that would significantly lessen the absorbed energy? How would battlefield smoke or humidity affect the laser (the chinese say very much so)?

      I am not against the research on such systems. I just believe that kinetic/chemical energy would remain the king of the battlefield for the predictable future.

      • nobody

        >The enemy would just have to develop some cheap decoys to lure the laser to hit the decoy (believing it to be a fully functional UAV). A cheap sensor further back would detect the laser beam. The more kW on the beam the longer the distance of the stand off sensor to locate it.
        Could just as easily be done by investing in making better gunshot detection and location systems for use against kinetic solutions.

        >But how about saturation attacks? How many seconds would it take for the system to destroy a munition?
        Not sure how long this takes, but kinetic solutions generally won’t hit instantly and must fire many shots to hit the target. Also, the enemy having to resort to saturation attacks, forces them to carry more ammunition, deploy more equipment for the same effect, and reduces the amount of targets they can attack as many targets per amount of ammunition carried.

        >How about having special insensitive explosive that would not detonate by the heat of the laser even if it penetrates the casing?
        Kinetic solutions have the same issue, except with the development of explosives that are less sensitive to shock.

        >How about employing a random spiral trajectory that would have minimal effects on the kinetic energy of the munition but would make its engagement very difficult for the laser?
        Kinetic solutions would most likely be affected just as much (depending on the size of the spiral). This could probably be circumvented by having the targeting computer determine the rate of the spiral, unless the munitions were computer controlled and would swerve around randomly (this would probably be the solution chosen for more expensive munitions and as an added bonus, wouldn’t cost much more to add some sort of guidance to these munitions).

        >How about advanced reflective materials (Iet alone plasma shields) that would significantly lessen the absorbed energy?
        You would need a pretty high quality reflective coating (read expensive) for this to be effective (any defects in the coating and that area will quickly heat up and damage the rest of the coating), if this did work I have a feeling that it would also end up being the most expensive option and the previous solution with computer guidance would be much better.

        • Kostas

          >Could just as easily be done by investing in making better gunshot detection and location systems for use against kinetic solutions.

          For kinetic solutions you basically need radars to locate the shooter (active means), for the laser you can use passive sensors, which one is more survivable and jamproof?

          >Not sure how long this takes, but kinetic solutions generally won’t hit instantly and must fire many shots to hit the target. Also, the enemy having to resort to saturation attacks, forces them to carry more ammunition, deploy more equipment for the same effect, and reduces the amount of targets they can attack as many targets per amount of ammunition carried.

          You won’t use this system to protect a random vehicle, but to protect high value stationary targets. All these targets are engaged by a multitude of munitions, preferably simultaneously (e.g. Artillery MRSI)

          >Kinetic solutions have the same issue, except with the development of explosives that are less sensitive to shock.

          Kinetic energy can “derail” an incoming munition, heat cannot do that (at these velocities)

          >Kinetic solutions would most likely be affected just as much (depending on the size of the spiral). This could probably be circumvented by having the targeting computer determine the rate of the spiral, unless the munitions were computer controlled and would swerve around randomly (this would probably be the solution chosen for more expensive munitions and as an added bonus, wouldn’t cost much more to add some sort of guidance to these munitions).

          Just use a fragmenting warhead and a proximity fuze

          >You would need a pretty high quality reflective coating (read expensive) for this to be effective (any defects in the coating and that area will quickly heat up and damage the rest of the coating), if this did work I have a feeling that it would also end up being the most expensive option and the previous solution with computer guidance would be much better.

          I don’t see why a reflective material would be so expensive. By the way, it doesn’t have to reflect 100% of the energy to be effective.

          • Thomas L. Nielsen

            “For kinetic solutions you basically need radars to locate the shooter (active means), for the laser you can use passive sensors,”
            Passive sensors can detect muzzle flash and blast. Lasers are coherent, making passive detection difficult unless the laser is pointed more or less in your direction.

            “Kinetic energy can “derail” an incoming munition, heat cannot do that (at these velocities)”
            A high-powered laser can ablate material off the the incoming munition, which can destabilize it.

            “Just use a fragmenting warhead and a proximity fuze”.
            Thereby increasing the cost of the defensive munition significantly.

            “By the way, it doesn’t have to reflect 100% of the energy to be effective.”
            Reflective surfaces as “laser armor” are overrated, since reflective surfaces work only for specific frequencies. If the defensive laser operates at a different frequency, you’re SOOL.

            Best regards,

            Thomas L. Nielsen
            Luxembourg

          • Kostas

            Unless the atmosphere has a 100% clarity and 0% humidity( a little bit difficult according to my limited meteorology knowledge and even more in battlefield conditions) the laser would be visible, more so than any muzzle flash or motor rocket.

            How much time would it take for the laser to flake off the incoming munition?

            Fragmenting warheads with proximity fuzes are available for 40mm cannons, I don’t see any cot issues with them.

            Reflective surfaces as laser armor are at their infancy. If the need arises, the technology for cheap and relative effective materials is available. By the way, there are some exotic technologies like plasma shields and metamaterials that in theory would work very well against lasers.

          • Thomas L. Nielsen

            “Unless the atmosphere has a 100% clarity and 0% humidity [….] the laser would be visible.”

            Probably, to a sufficiently sensitive sensor.

            “….more so than any muzzle flash or motor rocket”

            Are you sure about that? Have you seen an AA gun firing, or for that matter a SAM launch?

            “Fragmenting warheads with proximity fuzes are available for 40mm cannons, I don’t see any cot issues with them.”

            Airburst ammunition is available from 30mm and up (programmable, not proximity). The unit price, however, is significantly higher than that of other (non-airburst) ammunition types.

            “Reflective surfaces as laser armor are at their infancy”.

            So are the lasers themselves. And yes, defensive measures against laser weapons will certainly be developed when laser weapons are fielded. That doesn’t make laser weapons obsolete, just as body armor didn’t make the firearm obsolete.

            Regards & all,

            Thomas L. Nielsen
            Luxembourg

          • Kostas

            I have seen both AA guns and SAM, have you seen 10 kW or 30kW of laser energy? I have seen up to 1 W and it was really impressive, illuminating high altitude clouds!

            Proximity fuzes are being developed even for the 40 mm grenades, i don’t really see anything expensive in this technology.

            Lasers have limitations and countermeasures exist for them, it remains to be seen what their role would be in the future battlefield

          • Thomas L. Nielsen

            “….illuminating high altitude clouds” – sure, but unless you could actually see the beam or the emitter as well as the cloud, it won’t help you find the laser itself.

            Prox. fuzes tend to at least double the price of a round of ammunition, compared to standard impact fuzes. Whether this is “expensive” or not depends on your definition of “expensive”.

            “Lasers have limitations and countermeasures exist for them” – and what would these currently-available countermeasures be?

            Regards & all,

            Thomas L. Nielsen
            Luxembourg

      • The_Hand

        Unfortunately all the countermeasures you propose would be fabulously expensive (random spiral trajectory? Plasma shields?) or simply wouldn’t work (reflective materials). People need to realize that a 10kW laser isn’t a flashlight that can be stopped with a bathroom mirror. Even smoke isn’t going to be very effective–that much laser should burn through smoke particles pretty efficiently.

        Lasers are perfect for AA and point defense which is why the DoD is pushing at least two such systems right now. Unlike a kinetic round, a laser reaches its target instantly, is not affected by gravity or wind, and can use any source of electricity for ammunition. The current downside is a total lack of penetration that makes them useful only against fragile (UAVs) or volatile (incoming explosives) targets.

        Against those targets, however, it doesn’t take that much power to be effective. Consider that you can mission kill an airliner (and put yourself in jail) with a handheld laser pointer. 10kW of that is going to fuck up every sensor on a UAV almost instantly. You don’t even have to shoot it down.

        • Kostas

          @the hand: you have no idea about the subject. Just to let you know there are numerous munitions that currently employ a spiral trajectory (for different reasons), e.g. the Kornet missile. Therefore your point about fabulously expensive countermeasures is invalid. Reflective materials do not have to reflect all the energy to be effective. A combination of the factors I mentioned would make this system effective against small UAVs or solitary incoming munitions. MANPADs are more cost-effective for the UAVs and high value targets must first survive the salvo of incoming munitions to worry about the solitary ones.

          As I said, promising technology, but it still needs time

      • doctordave777

        I don’t know how applicable this weapon will be in multiple roles, but it seems to me that it’s a perfect addition to a Patriot missile defense system. Cheaply shoot down everything from mortars to missiles.

  • Watcher

    Remember you don’t have to destroy the platform – sensor kill is adequate for counter-ISR; and a 10kW will easily destroy sensors UAVs can carry. Combined with retro-reflection detection and you have a potent system against ANY sensor system that chooses to look at you.

    • oblatt22

      Yes the mantra of laser air defense – If you cant kill, destroy his sensors, if you cant destroy his sensors, damage his paint work.

  • Turk

    Has anyone asked what happens if you should, you know…”Accidentally” turn this on infantry?

    • doctordave777

      I’m sure that they’ve thought long and hard about the effect on humans, especially the enemy. In terms of accidental usage, how would it be any different than any other type of friendly fire? … Dave

  • Steven

    Can I just ask…? Why is this tech always being reported as “under development” or as “in the proto-type” stage? They had THEL blowing drone KC-135’s out of the skies over Edwards AFB way back in the early 80’s, when I was in the USAF! Yes, the tech has only gotten better and smaller over the DECADES. So, why is it that our buddies in Israel using the “Iron Dome,” when the whole of the Jewish State could be protected from everything from ICBMs to mortar rounds using MTHEL? And don’t even start me on the TROPHY system…. I’m just sick to death of these things being reported on as if they still aren’t ready for actual deployment in the real world. Am I the only one…?

    • blight_eikcpz

      Most likely THEL was a massive chemical laser apparatus, and probably required several trucks to deploy. Looks like THEL got shelved in the mid-2000’s due to costs; exacerbated by Iraq/Afghanistan-related costs.

  • leslieFH

    THEL was a chemical laser, also known as “mix toxic corrosive stuff with toxic corrosive stuff to get more toxic corrosive stuff”, which makes it somewhat problematic in real life use. These lasers are purely electric, but they required more work.

  • steve

    I’m still amazed out how solid-state lasers turned out in such a short time. What some are forgetting, when you use projectiles to shoot down a drone, what goes up, must come down. This is not so of energy weapons.

  • oblatt22

    The marines always leave lethality testing to the end – because that’s when the project has to be canceled and you want to waste as much money as possible before you discover it is useless.

    • ShamWowed

      Oblattipuss,
      What project, service, species has your blessing? Just curious if you can spew something from your mouth other than your apparent man crush with all things USMC or even DOD? I mean, are you okay with tanks, ships, subs, legos, what? Your internet warrior status is waning a bit with your typical BS. Why not share with the common folk your secrets to military and economic supremacy?

      Read more: http://live-defensetech.sites.thewpvalet.com/2014/09/25/marines-test-te
      Defense.org

  • The one armed man

    Wonder what the range is for these things. Anyone know?

  • Citizen of the World

    Is this efficient? One way of looking at it:

    1) The function of weapons is to apply energy (chemical explosives, nuclear explosives, kinetic, etc) to the target.

    2) The question is, how do we transport the energy from us to them, and how do we do it efficiently?

    3) Consider the options:
    * Bullets and similar projectiles are transported by expending chemical energy at the source, which is converted to kinetic energy (wasting some energy in the conversion, of course, which is consumed in transport — and hopefully enough is left over to apply to the target.
    * Missiles are transported by expending chemical energy all the way to the source
    * Suicide bombers are the transport method of attackers who cannot afford other transport systems
    * Lasers consume large amounts of energy at the source, to transport energetic particles to the target.

    Let’s not assume that the laser method is somehow more efficient just because there is no visible transport vehicle.

  • oblatt22

    As our military declines, undermined by contractors who couldn’t care less about America’s security. Wonder weapons like lasers and rail guns will become easier and easier to sell.

    Decline is always associated with desperate attempts to leapfrog the opposition. And it always accelerates the decline.

    • steve

      I can see you haven’t a clue about energy weapon or railgun development. But, that didn’t stop you from posting, did it?

      • oblatt22

        always fun to hear from the readership of popular mechanics LOL

      • d. kellogg

        The whole notion of railguns is almost even more fanciful than laser weapons.
        Velocity alone is insufficient the greater the range you wish the work to be done at.
        It’s already been proven time and again that R&D’ing gun-fired precision guided projectiles is expensive, and the production munitions don’t come cheap.
        Long range guided railgun projectiles will cost far greater to develop and manufacture.
        As a CIWS replacement for short range work, sure, but the longer the range we want to fire to, the more expensive the projectiles will be because speed alone is no guarantee of accuracy.

  • http://twitter.com/shyuechou @shyuechou

    This should be the right direction for the US to take.

  • ken

    We need to test new technologies, or we might not be prepared for future wars.

  • Muttling

    Nice step forward for energy weapons, far better than the huge bulky things they have been in the past and wayyyy better than a chemical laser using “rounds” of highly reactive/corrosive liquids (imagine taking a hit to that magazine.)

    I still think its gonna be a while before we get to the power and functionability we need for prime time, but we’re getting there.

  • CMC W.Jarvey

    As soon as it is ready for deployment they will probably give it to our so called allies to be used against us.