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USAF: Raytheon Counter-Drone Laser System Tested Last Year

The United States Air Force (USAF) has announced that it tested a counter-drone laser weapon system built by Raytheon last year.

The High Energy Laser Weapon System 2, known as HELWS2 or H2, was tested as part of a directed energy experiment by the Strategic Development Planning & Experimentation office, USAF said in a statement.

According to the statement, Raytheon Intelligence & Space developed the H2 from lessons learned during the deployment of its first HELWS — the H1 — in early 2020.

Improvements include a more rugged design for easier transport throughout a wide range of operational environments. 

It also boasts of a new beam director for more accurate fire and a robust power system for greater magazine depth.

“This experiment has many notable U.S. Air Force firsts, including the complete training of and operation of the system by Security Forces Airmen, the first directed energy c-UAS capability, and the first integration with a base,” said Lt. Col. Jared Rupp, Directed Energy Combined Test Force director.

“Additionally, these locations were selected to significantly enhance c-UAS capability through the use of these directed energy weapons (DEWs), helping to prevent enemy airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and attacks.”

Two-Phased Testing

The two-phased testing of the weapon system started off with its general assessment in July of last year to check its suitability for a more intense and comprehensive second round of testing.

“The first phase proved that H2 was capable of integrating with a fielded radar and fielded command and control system, and it completed the kill chain by shooting down UASs at operationally-relevant ranges,” Rupp said. 

In the second phase, which started in September, the system was deployed in overseas combatant commands of the USAF for operator training and an initial performance assessment.

Assessment Helped Users Acclimate to System

The service has not yet devised the system’s official training procedures and concept of operations due to unfamiliarity. The USAF said the assessment has helped users get accustomed to the machine.

“This experiment has gained knowledge to build a basis of integrating DEWs through U.S. Air Force operations,” Rupp said.

“We educated base leadership of the capabilities and limitations of these weapons to enable them to make proper decisions, such as engagement authorities.

We also assessed the performance of the system after overseas transport and set up and monitored the daily operation of the system to determine what factors impact operations the most and what parts of the system were most vulnerable to reliability problems.”

Other Systems Being Assessed

HELWS2, along with two other directed-energy systems: Raytheon’s PHASER and Air Force Research Laboratory’s Tactical High Power Operational Responder or THOR, are being assessed by the USAF primarily to protect their overseas air force bases from small drone and drone swarm threats.

After the initial assessment of the H2, the system will go through another round of assessment in about six months to one year’s time, the USAF said.

“At the end of the one-year evaluation period, the COCOMs decide whether they will take ownership of the sustainability of the system or whether they want us to take the system back,” Rupp said.

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