US Army Contracts General Atomics-Boeing Team To Build High Energy Laser Weapon Prototype

The United States Army has selected a General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) and Boeing team to develop a prototype 300kW-class solid state Distributed Gain High Energy Laser Weapon System. The contract, awarded by the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), intends to demonstrate the design of the system.

According to General Atomics, the prototype system will feature GA-EMS’ scalable Distributed Gain Laser technology, with Boeing supplying the system’s beam director and precision acquisition, tracking and pointing software. According to GA-EMS vice president for lasers and advanced sensors, Dr. Michael Perry, the system is a “a packaged version of the 7th Generation of our Distributed Gain Design already demonstrated”, with two of GA-EMS’ 7th Generation laser heads in a compact and lightweight package. He added that recent architectural improvements now allow GA-EMS’ single-beam distributed gain lasers to achieve comparable beam quality to fiber lasers, “in a very simple design without the need for beam combination”.

“The high power, compact laser weapon subsystem prototype that GA-EMS will deliver under this contract will produce a lethal output greater than anything fielded to date,” said Scott Forney, president of GA-EMS. “This technology represents a leap-ahead capability for air and missile defense that is necessary to support the Army’s modernization efforts and defeat next-generation threats in a multi-domain battlespace.”

“We’re excited to take the next step in delivering this critical capability to the Army,” said Cindy Gruensfelder, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Missile and Weapon Systems division. “Our joint offering will leverage proven, deployed technologies to provide an industry-leading solution on an accelerated timeline.”

The US Army announced in 2019 its intention to develop a 300kW-class laser weapon, replacing its original plans for a 100kW-class laser. Plans call for the 300kW-class laser to be demonstrated in 2022, with an initial delivery of four prototype units to take place in 2024. While the Army has not commented on why it reoriented development towards what it has described as “more stressing threats”, the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments has previously stated to Breaking Defense that a 300kW laser was the “absolute minimum” needed for a viable anti-cruise missile capability.