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US Army plans to demo high-energy laser system against small drones in 2022

Increasing threats from smaller drones has the US Army on the hunt for a company to produce a high-energy laser prototype by April 2022 to shoot down the aerial threats. The service issued a solicitation on 9 February for counter small unmanned aerial system high-energy laser (C-sUAS HEL) white-paper submissions by 24 February. Although the army recently stood up a Joint C-sUAS Office (JCO), this request comes from the service’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), which is overseeing directed-energy development.

“The primary opportunity and purpose of this effort is to integrate a government owned HEL subsystem with a power and thermal subsystem and sensor package to demonstrate increased lethality in negating sUAS,” the office wrote. “The HEL C-sUAS system will be demonstrated in a relevant environment and must show increased magazine depth while reducing operational costs, risk of interfering with untargeted systems, and risk of collateral damage when compared to other C-sUAS block 0 systems.”

This HEL system must be able to detect and characterise class 1 and 2 UASs, be capable of reliably taking down these smaller UASs at “standoff ranges”, have a “modular open system” design, and more.

Interested industry and academia should detail their respective approaches for designing, integrating, and prototyping such a system, with the expectation that the army wants two C-sUAS HELs – based off two government-furnished HELs and two surveillance radar systems – in time for an April 2022 demonstration. If the prototype demo is successful, the service may award a follow-on production contract.

Concerns over growing small UAS threats have been mounting, and US Marine Corp General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, recently equated this trend to the rise of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

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