If the announcement from Boeing back in October is any indication, the world is one very big step closer to the science fiction concept of a “death ray”, as first portrayed in the 1930’s comic strips Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.
On October 3rd, Boeing announced that it was preparing to demonstrate a “truck-mounted directed energy system that improves the warfighters’ ability to counter rockets, artillery, mortars and unmanned aerial threats.” (1)
We’ve covered a number of energy weapons under development by the military, such as electromagnetic pulse weapons and acoustics, as well as the directed particle beam weapon, as envisioned by the JASON group in the 1960’s.
However, this new weapon called the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) is a weapon of an entirely different caliber. Unlike other energy weapons which required too much energy to operate in a practical way on the battlefield, the HEL MD system is small enough to be mounted on the back of a large truck, making it a battlefield ready solution, once development and tests are completed successfully.
This isn’t some non-lethal battlefield toy either. The HEL MD laser is powerful enough to take out, as the Army describes on its technical center website, “rockets, artillery, and mortar projectiles.” (2)
Massive and Slow but Strong Defense
This isn’t the first lasers have been tested for military purposes. The military has already actively tested high-energy lasers in space, at sea, and even in the battlefield to detect nerve agents.
However, the HEL MD is one of the first truck-mounted battlefield systems using such a high-powered laser capable of crippling incoming weapons like artillery and UAVs.
How powerful? This laser weapon boasts a 10-kilowatt, solid-state laser for testing purposes, but Boeing announced that plans for future units include a more powerful laser.
Field tests using the laser weapon will take place throughout 2013. If the weapon proves out its capability to acquire incoming targets, track them and destroy them, it will likely make it to the next phase closer to the actual battlefield.
The vehicle required to transport this high-powered laser is no small potatoes. The weapon requires a massive 8-wheeler with a 500hp Caterpillar C-15 engine and a 16.5 ton payload capacity.
The beam director alone is a 3,000-pound device that takes approximately 4.5 minutes to fully deploy outside of the top of the vehicle before the weapon can be engaged. The weapon includes a beam director assembly, target acquisition and tracking sensors, a “main optical bench”, and the WMI interface – a computer interface for the soldier to use the weapon.
The military envisions using such a weapon to provide extra defensive protection to “forward operating bases, naval installations, air bases and other facilities.”
Once deployed out of the top of the vehicle, the “dome-shaped turret” can fire around a 360-degree axis for full sky coverage, as well as “below the horizon” capability – meaning ground-based acquisition and engagement.
It’s that last bit that should be a little foreboding for an enemy on the battlefield. The last thing a foot-soldier wants to come across on the battlefield is a high-powered laser.
That is one step closer to a “death ray” weapon if there ever was.