Enemy surface-to-air threats to manned and unmanned aircraft have become increasingly sophisticated, creating a need for rapid and effective response to this growing category of threats. High power lasers can provide a solution to this challenge, as they harness the speed and power of light to counter multiple threats. Laser weapon systems provide additional capability for offensive missions as well—adding precise targeting with low probability of collateral damage. For consideration as a weapon system on today’s air assets though, these laser weapon systems must be lighter and more compact than the state-of-the-art has produced.
The goal of the HELLADS program is to develop a 150 kilowatt (kW) laser weapon system that is ten times smaller and lighter than current lasers of similar power, enabling integration onto tactical aircraft to defend against and defeat ground threats. With a weight goal of less than five kilograms per kilowatt, and volume of three cubic meters for the laser system, HELLADS seeks to enable high-energy lasers to be integrated onto tactical aircraft, significantly increasing engagement ranges compared to ground-based systems.
In May 2015, HELLADS demonstrated sufficient laser power and beam quality to advance to a series of field tests. The achievement of government acceptance for field trials marked the end of the program’s laboratory development phase and the beginning of a new and challenging set of tests against rockets, mortars, vehicles and surrogate surface-to-air missiles at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
Ground-based field testing of the HELLADS laser is expected to begin in summer 2015 as an effort jointly funded by DARPA and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Following the field-testing phase, the goal is to make the system available to the military Services for further refinement, testing or transition to operational use.