US Army will test its most effective laser weapon ever next year

THE UNITED STATES Army is likely to demonstrate a 300-kilowatt laser weapon, its most powerful ever, next year. General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) and Boeing are building these devices, which is the size of a shipping container and mounted on a heavy truck.

“The high power, compact laser weapon… will create a lethal output greater than anything fielded to date,” Scott Forney, president of GA-EMS, said in a statement.

The US Navy deployed the first high-energy laser weapon, referred to as LaWS, on the USS Ponce in 2014, with a reported 30 kilowatt output. Most military lasers tend to maintain the 30 to 100 kilowatt range, which is principally useful for shooting down small drones, therefore the new weapon is a substantial increase.

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Read more: The US Army is building the most powerful laser weapon on the globe

Typically such weapons derive from multiple professional fibre lasers, with the output combined right into a single beam. The new weapon instead uses large slabs of glass linked in series. Such slabs have previously been hard to use due to waste heat and issues with beam quality, but GA-EMS says connecting them in series solves these issues and removes the necessity to incorporate beams from multiple fibre lasers.

The brand new laser is part of a US Army project to build up defensive lasers that may shoot down incoming threats. Last year it demonstrated a 10-kilowatt laser defeating small mortar rounds.

Justin Bronk at UK security think tank Royal United Services Institute says the better laser can take on bigger targets in addition to engaging multiple targets in quick succession.

“It’ll allow the system to activate a larger density of incoming threats, and in addition potentially engage threats which offer a shorter engagement window either due to speed or suprisingly low altitude flight trajectory,” says Bronk.

This might allow the laser to guard against ballistic and cruise missiles together with drones, aircraft and helicopters, he says.

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