The HEFL System Future Naval Capability (FNC) is working now to provide a directed energy weapon that will complement existing kinetic weapons. The Office of Naval Research, in concert with Resource, Requirements and Acquisition sponsors, are working together to establish the baseline for new program of record, which will deliver an airborne HELWS to the Fleet. The Concept of Employment for a HELWS, operating from a rotary wing platform includes an offensive capability in target rich environments (e.g., barrage, swarm, and stream raids) and a self protect capability (e.g., hard-kill of MANPADS and similar threats). Increased mission kills per sortie (at lower cost by using aviation fuel converted to high-energy laser power) against low-end asymmetric threats, frees the limited load-out of advanced kinetic weapons to strike advanced high-end threats.
The HEFL scalable, modular approach to an airborne laser weapon demonstration is an outgrowth of the Navy’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) projects in lasers, beam control, thermal management, and prime power. The FNC funding is being applied to further develop the SBIR subsystems and conduct a system level demonstration. The laser architecture – Spectral Beam Combining (SBC) – is inherently scalable by varying the number of lower power laser modules combined together to form a single higher power laser beam. The modules are operating at closely spaced wavelengths and combine with little loss, creating a very bright spatially coherent beam. The beam director design is adaptable to multiple platforms and has been evaluated for rotary wing, fixed-wing, and mobile ground operation.
HEFL will demonstrate the deep magazine that enables a single platform to engage large numbers of adversaries, with precision engagement and speed-of-light delivery of damaging effects at relevant ranges and dwell times. Ultimately, the laser’s deep magazine could reduce number of platforms/sorties required for mission success (i.e., lower cost) and potentially reduce the cost of procuring and fielding large numbers of kinetic weapons.