Laser casts new light on defense

Sept. 28, 2001

Laser casts new light on defense

Laboratory and U.S. Army officials today un-veiled a 10-kilowatt Solid State Heat Capacity Laser (SSHCL) that could demonstrate a new short-range air and missile-defense capability.

The 10-kW system is the highest average power single-beam solid-state laser in the world. The prototype, which eventually will be developed into a 100-kW laser, has been delivered to the U.S. Army’s High Energy Laser System Test Facility at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, for testing and evaluation.

The SSHCL has been a joint venture between the Laboratory and the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, of which HELSTF is a division.

The SSHCL program began in 1997 under direct congressional sponsorship. Total funding through 2001 is $46 million. The Army has allocated $38.7 million to the program from 2002 through 2004 in its technology program objective memorandum.

The LLNL team consists of project manager Brent Dane of Laser Science & Technology, Bruce Roy, Bill Manning, Jim Wintemute, Mark Rotter, Balbir Bhachu, Bob Sawvel, Laurence Flath, Randall Hurd, Eric Johansson, Dennis Silva, Jim Brase; Barry Freitas, Vern Williamson, Roy Merrill, Joe Satarino, Jacqueline Crawford, Everett Utterback, Ray Beach, Larain Dimercurio, Kurt Cutter, Jong An, Chuck Boley, Lisle Hagler and former LLNL employees Scott Fox, Mark Emanuel and Jay Skidmore.

“The delivery and installation of the laser at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility is a major milestone in the SSHCL development program,” said Bill Goldstein, associate director of Physics and Advanced Technologies.

The technology used in the program is based on solid-state lasers developed by the Department of Energy for inertial fusion research and the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

When developed as a compact 100-kW system, the SSHCL will be highly suited as a mobile laser-weapons system to protect against “tactical” threats, including short-range artillery, rockets and mortars. There is currently no effective protection against these weapons on the battlefield. A mobile weapon based on the 100-kW system is being considered as a component of the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System (FCS).

While at White Sands, the U.S. Army will use the 10-kW SSHCL to investigate laser-weapon system technical issues such as lethality, laser energy transport in the battlefield environment, optical pointing and tracking, and cost effectiveness.

LLNL is developing the 100-kW system and partnering with industry that includes: General Atomics, Raytheon, PEI Electronics Inc., Northrop Grumman Corp., Goodrich Corp., Armstrong Laser Technology and Saft.

The 10-kW prototype is pumped by flashlamps and requires 1 megawatt of input power to produce on average a 13-kW laser beam. It delivers 200 pulses with 500 Joules (a measurement of energy) per pulse for a total of 100,000 Joules (100 kJ).

The ultimate objective of the Army’s SSHCL program is to build a next-generation system with enough electrical efficiency to produce a 100-kW laser beam from 1 megawatt of input power, using diodes to pump a new crystalline laser material.