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US to test new high powered laser weapon on army trucks

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On March 16, a US defense manufacturer announced that its modern solid-state fiber laser carries a record-breaking 58 kilowatts of direct power and that in a matter of months it will send the US Army the weapon to test on the High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck (HELMTT).

Robert Afzal, senior laser and sensor systems fellow at Lockheed, says that the laser’s scale flexibility gives it the potential to be used on a range a platforms like large ships and drones at varying power levels.

The modern laser is twice as powerful as Lockheed’s Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA), which can not only shoot rockets out of the sky but also burned a hole through the hood of a truck from over a mile away. About 40 percent of the laser’s energy resides in its beam, which for solid-state lasers is considered very high.

In an effort to upgrade the 10 kilowatt High-Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), which launched in 2011, the Pentagon first called for a 50 kw laser in 2014. Afzal told reporters that HELMTT will “upgrade the capability of that truck by a factor of five at least.”

Solid state lasers are preferable to the chemical lasers that the US Army once experimented with, as high-powered beams don’t require the use of risky materials. Operating somewhat like a prism, a combined beam fiber laser creates one beam by pulling from different beams of light

Military hardware like trucks and drones are increasingly implementing systems that produce electricity, necessary for applications like lasers. The experimental LightningStrike vertical lift drone and Northrop Grumman’s Hell Hound are generate electricity through advanced hydrogen propulsion and engine systems, and Lockheed is trying to integrate the laser on the LightningStrike.

The US Air Force is exploring the possibility of equipping fighter jets with fiber lasers through its Self-protected High-Energy Laser Demonstration (SHIELD) program, and in October 2016 Afzal stated that Lockheed was doing the same with the F-35 Joint Strike fighter jet.

“The core of this technology and our demo validates this – this technology is scalable. We can go up or down in power, go smaller or larger,” Afzal said, according to Defense One.

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Is This a Sneak Peek at the Israeli Army’s New Tank?

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A small armored wedge with a remote-controlled turret: is this what the Israel Defense Force’s future armored vehicles will look like?

The answer is . . . maybe. At a conference in Israel last month, the former chief of the IDF’s Armored Corps showed a simulation of what Project Carmel—the IDF’s effort to develop technology for the its generation of tanks—might produce.

The virtual vehicle is wedge-shaped, with the hull sloping towards the front. The cannon-armed turret is set at the rear of the hull, with a machine gun mounted on top. In one of the screenshots, below the turret there is what seems to be—and your guess is as good as mine—a row of vision ports (you can see other screenshots here and here).

Israel is developing two next-generation armored vehicles. One is the Eitan, the IDF’s first wheeled armored personnel carrier and the chosen replacement for Israel’s fleet of old and poorly armored M113 APCs. Already in the prototype stage, the eight-wheeled Eitan somewhat resembles the U.S. Stryker. The thirty-ton Eitan will be paired with the much heavier Namer, an APC based on the chassis of the Merkava tank.

However, the simulated vehicle displayed at the conference by retired Brigadier General Didi Ben-Yoash, who is heading Project Carmel, is much more of a tank. It would be tracked rather than wheeled like the Eitan, and would weigh thirty-five to forty tons (compared to a sixty-eight-ton M-1 Abrams). With just two crewmen, the vehicle would mostly function autonomously, including “autonomous navigation and driving, target spotting, aiming, independent firing whenever possible plus other features,” according to Israel Defense magazine.

The “cockpit” of the Israeli vehicle will have space for a third crewman to operate drones and standoff weapons. The tank would also have an active protection system, such as Israel’s Trophy, to deflect antitank missiles and rockets. “The future armored platform will be light, agile, small, relatively inexpensive and simple to operate and designed primarily for operation in urban areas with the hatches closed,” Israel Defense said.

The new tank will not replace the current Merkava 4, which is expected to remain in production until 2020. “Rather, it is a research-and-development program aimed at a state-of-the-art, medium-weight combat vehicle,” according to Defense News.

“It won’t be Merkava 5,” an Israeli official told Defense News. “The operational requirement will be something entirely different.”

Much like the United States and its Ground-X Vehicle Technology project, Israel is aiming to develop smaller, lightweight tanks that can operate in urban terrain. In Israel’s case, the IDF is mindful of the lessons of Operation Cast Lead, the 2014 incursion in Gaza that saw Israeli soldiers challenged by a city with narrow streets and crisscrossed by tunnels. Also in line with U.S. thinking, the Israeli vehicle will be heavily networked into battlefield command and control systems.

The Below the Turret Ring blog offers a thoughtful analysis of what’s known about Project Carmel vehicle so far. The Israeli vehicle is considerably lighter than the forty-eight-ton Armata, which is Russia’s next-generation tank. Its active protection system might stop antitank missiles, but its armor won’t stop heavy cannon rounds from tanks such as the T-72. “The closest Russian counterpart to the Carmel might be the BMPT/BMPT-72 Terminator fire support vehicle designed by the Russian company UVZ,” the blog notes.

In that sense, Project Carmel sounds less like a main battle tank that can replace the Merkava or Abrams in a turret-to-turret armored slugfest. A small tank protected by medium armor and armed with an autocannon and missiles, it would seem to have its own niche as an infantry support vehicle.

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US Army Laser Prototype Intercepts Drones in Mid-Air (VIDEO)

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The US Army’s 60 kilowatt advanced test high energy asset (ATHENA) laser weapon prototype took down five Outlaw unmanned aerial systems over the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico last month.
The weapons platform is designed by Lockheed Martin, which posted the following video of ATHENA in action.

According to the defense contracting giant, the weapon system makes use of the magnifying glass effect to strengthen the beam applied against targets. It can horizontally rotate to strike targets in any direction; boasts unlimited ammunition by injecting power and removing excess heat from the turret itself; and is compatible for air, land, and sea domains.

On Wednesday, Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) chief Lt. Gen. Marshall Webb said the service plans to test a much stronger 150 kilowatt laser weapon system aboard a gunship in 2018. The weapon system, known as the high energy liquid laser area defense system (HELLADS), is the result of a General Atomics project that has received significant development support and funding from the Pentagon’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) because it wouldn’t be related to the government if it didn’t have an acronym.

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