The US Army’s directed energy program is at a crossroads.

While Raytheon boasts the operational success of its high-energy laser weapon systems (HELWS), integrating this technology into the Army’s mobile arsenal proves challenging.

Stumbling Out of the Gate: 50-Kilowatt Laser Prototypes Encounter Issues

Initial tests of 50-kilowatt laser prototypes mounted on Stryker vehicles, part of the Directed Energy Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense (DE M-SHORAD) program, yielded less-than-stellar results.

Army acquisition head Doug Bush highlighted to the Senate Appropriations Airland subcommittee last Wednesday, May 15, the difficulties of “incorporating [a 50-kilowatt laser] into a vehicle that has to move around constantly.” Heat dissipation, electronics strain, and wear-and-tear in harsh environments were major concerns.

However, the picture isn’t entirely bleak.

Raytheon’s HELWS, already deployed by the Air Force with over 25,000 operational hours, showcases the potential of directed energy weapons.

Their affordability and near-limitless “shots” compared to traditional missiles make them a game-changer.

A single, expensive missile can take down a cheap drone, while a laser can expend minimal energy for the same result. This cost-effectiveness is particularly attractive considering the growing threat of low-cost, commercially available drones increasingly used by adversaries.