The bright future of laser weapons
Imagine an advancing mechanized army unit approaching an enemy force on the outer border of an urban area when suddenly a small fleet of enemy drones emerges from behind tall buildings to attack with air-to-surface missiles. . Tanks and tactical vehicles approaching an armored column could suddenly be endangered if the drones had not previously been detected by an air asset.
This is the type of scenario that the Air Force and the Army are preparing to face. Both military services arm small tactical vehicles and some of their larger tactical trucks with precision laser weapons to help find and incinerate enemy targets without the need to create explosive shards. Lasers would offer a more cost effective long term solution than current assets.
Much of the innovation has been directed towards the engineering of mobile sources of transportable electrical power sufficient to generate and maintain operational efficiency. Gen. John Murray, commander of Army Futures Command, said the military is tackling these challenges and is making rapid progress in integrating mobile power supply into combat vehicles.
“If you put it on a ship, I mean, you have the room and you have the power. If you put it in a fixed installation, you can build the room and the power, ”Murray said earlier this year at an event for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The problem is how to make these things mobile.”
Prototype laser weapons have been operational for many years now. But emerging technology is changing the type of missions these weapons can perform. Companies in the military services and defense industry have been working on software enhancements, upgrades, and enhancements to improve operational functionality. Part of this endeavor includes the use of new software to improve the laser fire control interface. This is something that could be used to increase accuracy, scale effects, or increase horsepower depending on mission requirements. A large truck-mounted laser could provide mobile air and missile defense to moving units in combat. The high-energy laser could perhaps provide a protective envelope or defense blanket over a particular operational area, allowing tactical and combat forces to maneuver with less risk. This will require continued ‘power scaling’ of laser systems and exploring new types of mobile power adaptations to ensure that sufficient force can be compressed into a form factor small enough to provide very significant firepower to mobile systems such as army tactical trucks.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National interest. Osborn previously served in the Pentagon as a highly trained expert in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. Osborn also worked as an on-air presenter and military specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a visiting military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
Image: Flickr / US Air Force