Directed energy weapons set for battlefield

Israel and the US Army have selected a Northrop Grumman design concept for the Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser prototype, a laser weapon capable of destroying tactical airborne rockets and projectiles in mid-air.

The US Army and the Israeli Ministry of Defence (IMoD) have selected a Northrop Grumman Corporation design concept for the Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser (MTHEL) prototype, a laser weapon capable of shooting down short-range rockets and artillery projectiles in flight.

‘MTHEL represents a transformational weapon system – the first mobile directed energy weapon that will be able to destroy tactical airborne threats in mid-air,’ said Pat Caruana, Northrop Grumman Space Technology vice president for missile defence. ‘The system meets critical air and missile defence needs for both the US Army and IMoD and represents the culmination of over 30 years of Northrop Grumman investments in high-energy lasers.’

The choice of a design concept is a key step preceding development of the MTHEL prototype, which will take place from2004 through to 2007.

Caruana noted MTHEL’s ability to destroy airborne targets has been proven by the THEL/Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator (ACTD), a Northrop Grumman-developed system now at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. In tests, THEL/ACTD (now called the MTHEL Testbed) has shot down 28 Katyusha rockets, fired singly and in salvos, and five artillery projectiles.

Selection of the Northrop Grumman MTHEL design concept resulted from an alternate systems review held in June in Huntsville, Alabama. US Army and IMoD officials selected the design from among several alternatives presented.

‘MTHEL will bring speed-of-light defence to the battlefield, but it will act and feel like any other air defence system, said Joe Shwartz, Northrop Grumman’s MTHEL program manager. ‘It will be operated by soldiers and supported in the field, mostly by the use of existing maintenance and logistical infrastructure. This enables both a seamless integration into current warfighting concept of operations, while at the same time positioning the Army for the future.’

Laser weapons operate by projecting a highly focused, high-power beam of light that delivers enough energy on a rocket or artillery projectile to explode it in mid-air.

The cost per shot, primarily cost of the chemicals used to fuel the laser, is expected to be in the thousands of dollars-far less expensive than the cost of kinetic energy defence systems, in which a sophisticated rocket or projectile collides with a target to destroy it.