Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971


Raytheon’s Laser Weapons: Transformative Capabilities Redefining the Battlefield

By: Sakha Pramod
With deep, rechargeable magazine and minimal logistics, laser weapons are an affordable and viable option to protect military and critical infrastructure and rapidly defeat threats. Lasers offer a nearly infinite number of shots and precision accuracy with very low collateral damage, making it an affordable alternative to traditional munitions. That is why Raytheon has ensured that its laser weapons work with a long list of sensors, effectors, and command & control systems, providing maximum range and flexibility, said Michael Hofle, Senior Director of High-Energy Lasers at Raytheon. Excerpts from the interview:
Compared to traditional weaponry, how do technically superior laser weapons achieve extended ranges and quicker defeat times? 
It’s important to always look at the threat first to determine the right tool for the mission. With laser weapons, you’re firing silent, invisible beams of light to destroy threats or burn holes in things far beyond visual range. 
One of the things that makes our system so successful against difficult threats in cluttered environments is our laser beam director. We based our entire architecture on Raytheon’s tough, battle-hardened electro-optical/infrared sensor, called the Multispectral Targeting System (MTS).
MTS has millions of operational hours in some of the harshest, most demanding environments. And it can not only identify and track highly manoeuvrable threats in clutter, but it can also track and target on the move. We’ve designed it to fire the laser at the exact spot on the drone or target that you want to hit. Our 50kW-class laser weapon, for instance, can burn a hole through a small consumer drone in a flash, and it can defeat a mortar within seconds.
At Raytheon, we’ve moved well beyond research projects or one-off demonstrations. We’re producing mature laser weapon systems. We are helping our customers deploy them in the field and putting them in soldiers’ hands to clear the skies today.
Why is it important for laser weapons to integrate with established U.S. Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) systems such as Patriot and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS)?
Governments and militaries need to use their resources wisely while protecting people and property, and Raytheon’s laser weapons are specifically designed to help them do that. In fact, Raytheon has the only laser weapons proven to operate as fully-integrated, standalone systems or work together with existing air defence systems. 
These rugged, integrated systems have proven interfaces to connect to existing air defence command and control systems such as NASAMS. There’s a large suite of C2 systems like NASAMS out there, and our system has already been integrated with those higher-echelon C2 systems for air defence. We have publicly demonstrated that the sophisticated radars of a NASAMS unit can be used to help Raytheon’s laser weapons find, target and destroy drones at great distances. 
That means the existing investments in IAMD systems can be leveraged to stop dangerous drone threats, and the laser weapons serve as a final protective layer to defend those IAMD systems against attacks. 
Our layered approach to Counter-UAS and Counter-RAM includes a mix of advanced radars, EO/IR and other sensors that put eyes and ears on target, delivering actionable intelligence and precision guidance. 
We have export licenses for multiple laser weapon variants in 47 countries, and our customers are asking us to get them smart on affordable solutions to drones and other short-range aerial threats. They’re also asking us to prepare for accelerated delivery schedules.
How does maintaining long-term commitment with partners ensure the operational readiness of fielded systems?
Our laser weapons are rugged for combat environments and transportable on military platforms. We designed everything to sit on C-130s, C-17s, and on most standard pallets. They can be operated by soldiers 24/7 in extreme environments, and they’re supportable by our existing production and test capabilities and a global field support team. 
One of the key elements of Raytheon’s design and packaging is that we don’t have a separate big box for each of the functions of the weapon system. We’ve addressed all of the requirements for a laser weapon in one small module, which leverages years of investment and proven technology.
The Multispectral Targeting System (MTS) that our laser weapon is based on has millions of operational flight hours with the Griffin missile and Paveway laser-guided bomb, as well as with all tri-service and NATO laser-guided munitions. It provides huge SWaP savings, is already tough enough for real-world environments, and can be easily integrated and supported on different combat vehicles. 
What are the major considerations when designing high-energy laser systems for different operational environments?
We’re at the stage right now where lasers are finally small enough, efficient enough and repeatably producible enough to be fielded in tactical platforms without obstructing warfighter needs like safety, ingress and egress. We can finally pack everything in, and that’s because of advancements in fibre lasers, but also in lithium-ion batteries and all the different components that go into Raytheon’s modern laser weapon systems today.
Our ruggedised laser weapons are different because they are mature, fully integrated, end-to-end weapon systems that operate from a vehicle or a stationary location: EO/IR, beam director, laser weapon, thermal, power, and optional radar, all packaged together.
Can you share any notable success stories or applications of high-energy lasers in real-world scenarios?
Our laser weapons are the only mature and comprehensive laser solution, with more than 400 target kills and more than 25,000 hours of operation in theatre. 
With soldiers and airmen at the controls, we’ve demonstrated repeatable success through the complete kill chain against multiple threat scenarios – day and night – at tactically relevant distances in the field and in combat-realistic tests.
The “low, slow” aerial threat set isn’t well-serviced by traditional air defence systems. You need a laser to defend against them with a rapid engagement base. However, you still need a standard air defence system to deal effectively with Group 4 and 5 aircraft, but the laser is there to deal with the threats that aren’t well-serviced by it.
What steps is Raytheon taking to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the laser systems?
These laser weapons are designed to have soldiers at the controls, and we build everything to be both effective and safe. These laser weapons are based on established technologies, from the beam director to the fibre-combined laser modules to the batteries and thermal management systems. 
Before our systems reach our customers, our unique architecture has been operated and tested by engineers, scientists with PhDs, and operational and quality specialists of all kinds. The U.S. Air Force has deployed our HELWS systems in multiple different combat areas, and the U.S. Army has said that their DE M-SHORAD systems have had thousands of soldier touchpoints. 
The system only requires one operator – often, there are two working together – and it’s very easy to train those operators. It doesn’t take weeks or months of schooling. We’ve trained operators in just a few hours. They use a video game controller to operate the system and direct the laser onto the target. 
Are there any limitations that prevent the wider adoption of high-energy lasers?
Raytheon’s laser weapon systems are combat-ready and production ready, with all the critical components to support militaries and air defence forces. Our systems are already in early production in the world’s first laser weapon factory in Texas – and we’re prepared to scale and deliver multiple laser weapons per year. 
The vision for the future is that we’re going to be building more and more of these and getting them out to the air defence forces around the world.
How are Raytheon’s research and development efforts progressing when it comes to increasing the power and range of the lasers?
We look at the mission set in three different areas. There’s a 15-kilowatt power class, which are the smaller systems you see, such as the High Energy Laser Weapon System on a light tactical vehicle or in a palletised configuration. This category of systems is good at dealing with group one and two drones, and we’ve even proven that we can reliably take down group three drones.
Then we move into a different power category, which is larger. You need a larger vehicle, and it has some larger components. That is our 50-kilowatt class, which gets into what we call short-range air defence. It’s no longer just anti-drone. You can do group one, two and three drones, the larger drones that are longer range. 
Beyond that, there’s everything above that, which is 100+ kilowatts. That is still firmly in the science and technology space. You need very large platforms to accommodate the appropriate laser power, and there are also a lot of heat issues to work through.
We’re excited to show the world that our high-energy laser weapons are real and ready to defend against more than drones. The architecture we’ve created is flexible to scale up and down to meet the needs of the mission. The basic design includes four “line replaceable units” – components that can be easily swapped in and out. 
You can shrink down certain areas or subsystems and perhaps push that SWaP over to other parts of the system. With the 15kW class system, the first time we put it on a small tactical vehicle – in this case, a dune buggy – we wanted to prove it could be done. We took a very small vehicle and challenged ourselves to form these different subsystems into a package you can put into a very small, manoeuvrable vehicle.
In addition to size, weight and power challenges, we think the biggest challenge for higher power systems will be the need for large-aperture beam directors that can effectively focus more powerful beams on high-speed targets. 
What are the major advancements in laser technology that we can expect in the near future?
AI/ML is playing a role in advancing automation to improve effectiveness and speed up engagements. As more and more systems are deployed, AI/ML will help lasers address an ever-increasing set of threats and scenarios.

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