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

“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

      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….

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.