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RAYTHEON SETS THE BAR WITH A FAMILY OF SCALABLE HIGH-ENERGY LASER WEAPON SYSTEMS

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U

nmanned aerial systems (UAS) have become a persistent problem for modern defence and security efforts across the world.

Drones are plentiful, cheap and dangerous. Weaponised to great effect by terror groups like ISIS, these swarm-capable systems now present an enduring, lethal challenge to United States and allied forces and a significant risk for conflict escalation.

In the past 24-months, Raytheon has developed an advanced high-energy laser weapon system (HELWS) to address the drone threat and the future mission requirements of the US and its allies.

“We recognised early that UAS are an immediate and quickly evolving threat to our armed forces and coalition partners,” explains } A quadcopter UAS starts to burn during a test engagement with Evan Hunt, high-energy laser business Raytheon’s high-energy laser weapon system development lead at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems. “We also recognized that high-energy lasers are the most Kinetic weapons have met this challenge for now, but with them comes cost precise and cost-effective way to identify and hard-defeat this threat.” and logistical limitations to countering these pervasive airborne threats. Deployed forces require proven, end-to-end counter-UAS (CUAS) solutions that The company has matured a CUAS concept integrating a 10kW spectral can rapidly detect, classify and precisely engage these threat sets in complex beam-combined high-energy laser weapon system onto a Polaris MRZR® 4 x 4 and cluttered environments – without expending costly, overmatching assets. all-terrain vehicle. The system has successfully detected, tracked and destroyed over 90 fixed-wing drones and quadcopters representing Class I and II UAS Enter Raytheon. threats in multiple US Army and US Air Force demonstrations. The Raytheon

} Raytheon’s high-energy laser weapon system was platformed to

a Polaris MRZR® all-terrain vehicle to rapidly test its counter-UAS capabilities. It has downed more than 90 Class I and II UAS targets since 2017 and can scale in power due to its modular subsystems and its ruggedised Multi-spectral Targeting System beam director

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system has performed at several US Army Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment trials and a recent experiment at White Sands Missile Range that put enlisted Air Force personnel in the operator seat for the first time.

The team effectively integrated the same battery used in F1 racing cars and packaged it into a power module stacked up behind the driver’s seat on the MRZR.

The system has also seamlessly integrated and communicated through Command and Control, taking cues from off-board sensors such as the US Army’s Ku Band Multi-Function RF System and works in conjunction with other US Army sensors such as the AN/TPQ-50 lightweight counter mortar radar.

THE KEY DISCRIMINATOR

The company has used these experiences to iteratively improve and refine its weapon system architecture and now fields a CUAS system distinguished by a significant step change in capability over its original concept. “Not only is our CUAS demonstrator intended to prove that laser weapons are the key technology to dealing with small drones, it also proves that we know how to put beams on target – which is arguably the most difficult part of fielding a laser weapon system,” says Hunt.

MODULAR APPROACH Key to Raytheon’s ability to rapidly develop advanced HEL technology solutions - and quickly transition to production - is a modular subsystem design approach that draws on available industrial components and proven Raytheon military technologies. “Our CUAS HELWS went from a paper design to a capable demonstrator system in little less than seven months. That’s a very rapid development,” says Justin Martin, chief engineer for Raytheon’s high-energy laser program. The team sourced industrial laser modules that had the power to cut and weld. From there, they took it a step further by “combining several beams… into a single high-power focused beam of light, using a simple spectral beam combining optical module,” says Martin. Which allowed them to achieve a weaponised level of optical power. “For our power source, we’ve leveraged advanced lithium ion battery technology from the motor racing industry - a mature, available, high performing and already supported technology, and something that we could immediately bring to the game” says Martin. } Raytheon has

expanded the CUAS HELWS design to fit commercially available platforms like this Ford F-350

What sets apart Raytheon’s solution is the integrated Multi-spectral Targeting System™ (MTS) functioning as the weapon system’s beam director. Generating high-energy laser beams requires a lot of power and thermal connections, but power is half the battle in a point-and-shoot operation that demands exact precision. That’s where the MTS technology comes in: its optical range precisely holds the beam on an often high-manoeuvring target, with almost no loss in beam integrity. “Everybody likes to talk about power, but the reality is that if you can’t reliably track a very specific spot on a target throughout your engagement, then you can’t prosecute it,” says Hunt. Raytheon’s family of airborne Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems have provided electro-optical/infrared, laser designation, and laser illumination capabilities in a gimballed sensor package for decades. Leveraging that technology put Raytheon in a position to rapidly weaponise a high-energy laser system that could be counted on to accurately engage targets again and again. “If you just compare what’s sitting on top of some of our competitors’ products right now to what is offered in our systems, it’s just a world of difference in terms of usability and lethality on the target,” says Hunt. The challenges associated with high-altitude surveillance imaging and targeting are essentially the same as putting a beam on a target. The Raytheon MTS team spent decades solving for those challenges since their first successful use as a laser designator in the Kosovo conflict. “Other beam director solutions derived from a largely scientific or astronomical approach, but the Raytheon MTS brought a ruggedised, military-ready capability to the laser weapons community – a completely new and far more effective perspective from what’s gone on in the past,” notes Martin. In addition to delivering a precision HELW HELWS capability, the MTS also furnishes the user with the benefit of a best-in-breed best-in-bree large aperture electro-optic/ infrared sensor - essentially an integrated upgrade in situational awareness, positive identification of target capability, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. “It not only allows us to precisely place an HEL beam on target, it also allows us to watch the target, view the laser’s effects, and t acquire battle-dam battle-damage assessment in real time. Those capabilities are m more effective in our system than in any others in this realm right now,” says Martin.

SCALING UP The Th company comp co mpany has ha been careful to define and implement high-energy laser weapon system impl im plem pl emen entt its hi READY REA DY NO NOW / Advertisingsupplement


} An Apache AH-64 attack helicopter

flies with a podded variant of Raytheon’s high-energy laser weapon system. Right: an earlier Apache HEL flight test took a mass simulation pod to test out the aerodynamics of the new pod

architecture as a product family. That means that the architecture and the user interfaces remain identical among the variants. “Our plan for future iterations of our weapon system is to still leverage these available, mature, supported industrial components,” says Martin. “We are not deviating from that and suddenly developing new major components. It’s a scaling exercise only – not a redesign – in order to support increases in power.” The majority of the weapon system, including laser, power and thermal management, is directly scalable, with similar interfaces for larger physical sizes. The operator controller, the fire control system, the target acquisition and track also remain the same throughout. Raytheon groups the next power-scaling step into two classes of systems: 1. a 50kw-class system for a vehicle-mounted mobile short-range air defence mission. 2. a 100kW-class system to support the counter rocket, artillery and mortar mission (C-RAM), with a larger aperture beam director to effectively respond to threat swarms or salvos. “We know where the laser product line is going,” says Hunt. “We have multiple mature beam director designs which are ‘right-sized’ for higher power requirements – such as MSHORAD and C-RAM mission scenarios.”

THE FUTURE, NOW Raytheon’s weapon system architecture isn’t confined to land-based applications only. The company has demonstrated an air-to-surface laser engagement capability with a podded variant mounted to the wing of a US Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The system tracked and engaged a number of targets at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico in June 2017. The system continues to mature with engineering development actively underway.

The 2017 demonstration was an engineering activity, proving the physics of an HEL system’s ability to lase from a helicopter. Raytheon has supported a cooperative research and development agreement to validate engineering trades and learn lessons that will help burndown risk for an Engineering & Manufacturing Development phase. The company also intends to demonstrate how its laser weapon system can complement the naval Phalanx Close-In Weapon System to address a range of asymmetric threats. Developed by Raytheon, the six-barrelled 20mm Phalanx is coupled with a Ku-band radar and a FLIR sensor, giving it an allweather CUAS/C-RAM capability. “While lasers have drawbacks – they are definitely not an all-weather capability – they can cost-effectively and silently destroy drones at range, and can also provide for positive identification of the target requirement; so there is significant synergy and complementary capability between the laser weapon system we have today and kinetic effectors such as the Phalanx,” says Hunt. And as the US Department of Defense considers new platforms like the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle or Future Vertical Lift helicopter, or a new air tanker or next-generation bomber, Raytheon is positioned to develop systems that are required for varied mission sets the new platforms will execute. “In the future, I believe that any platform which carries advanced weapon systems will have a laser weapon system on it,” says Hunt. “That laser weapon will not entirely replace kinetic munitions, but it will replace the hard points or a portion of the magazine that we have for our all-weather kinetic munitions, because our laser weapon capability is that compelling.”

Rotary attack customers from the Army’s Apache Attack Helicopter Project Management Office and the US Special Operations Command are looking to complement kinetic effectors like the AGM-114 Hellfire missile with a low-collateral, surgical-strike capability against high-value targets with a capability to detect threats, communicate and escape. “Lasers are a different kind of effector…they offer additional capability by precisely blinding or defeating other sensors at long range,” says Hunt. READY NOW / Advertisingsupplement

} Raytheon intends to demonstrate how its high-energy laser weapon system can

complement the Phalanx Close-In Weapon System.

(US Air Force photo* by Staff Sgt. Sean Martin)

* The appearance of US Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement

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[Sponsor Content] Raytheon - Ready Now  

Over the past 24 months, Raytheon has invested in the development of an advanced, scalable high-energy laser weapon system architecture to a...

[Sponsor Content] Raytheon - Ready Now  

Over the past 24 months, Raytheon has invested in the development of an advanced, scalable high-energy laser weapon system architecture to a...