Officially termed a “directed energy” weapon, the first pair of vehicle mounted lasers designed to combat unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have been received by the US Air Force. The ‘High Energy Laser Weapon System’ or HELWS can both detect and engage enemy UAS from an all-terrain ground vehicle. It will now undergo field trials by the USAF in an undisclosed location overseas, likely Europe.
Detection of inbound UAS is accomplished via a variant of Raytheon’s Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS) which according to the company, “provides electro-optical/ infrared (EO/IR), laser designation, and laser illumination capabilities integrated in a single sensor package.” Raytheon displayed the functionality of the HELWS platform in a 2018 video on YouTube showing the weapon literally burning through a targeted drone.
The popular Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicle was chosen as the mobile platform which means transportability by all standard airframes to include the C-130 and CH/MH-47 Chinook. Dr. Ben Allison, Director of Raytheon’s high energy laser product line noted; “Basically, we’re putting a laser on a dune buggy to knock drones out of the sky.”
After experimenting with a containerized approach and realising the HELWS required only around 30 square feet, a mobile capability was developed; “When we saw how small we could make it and we saw a clear customer need, we immediately wanted to find a very tactically relevant vehicle that could get out to forward operating bases and do its mission.” The system was developed and fielded for testing by the Air Force in an impressive 24 months.
The system can be powered by an external generator or battery charged from a standard 220 volt power outlet. A single charge powers the HELWS to engage targets between 20 and 30 times or provide four hours of surveillance. The MTS gives the platform both a long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability and targets enemy UAS for the laser itself.