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Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser

The Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser project funded a chemical laser weapon system assessment and hardware design and risk reduction activities supporting design. The Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser (MTHEL) development and integration effort was a follow-on to the combined US/Israel Tactical High Energy Laser Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (THEL ACTD) program. The goal is for the MTHEL to be deployable by a C-130 and consist of three vehicles. The laser would be based on one vehicle, the fire control radar the second, and the laser fuel on a third. The MTHEL was designed to protect soldiers from artillery and mortar rounds and rockets. the laser system can be packed into about three tractor-trailer loads. The next phase will shrink it to less than one load. Ultimately, it will be small enough to mount on a Humvee.

The mission of the MTHEL is based on a Common Operational Requirement developed by the US Army Air Defense School and the Israeli Air Force. The work in this program is consistent with the Army Directed Energy Master Plan and the Army Modernization Plan. Work in this program is related to and fully coordinated with efforts in PE 0603308A (Army Missile Defense Systems Integration (DEM/VAL), PE 0605605 (DOD High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility) and PE 0602307A (Advanced Weapons Technology, Project 042 - High Energy Technology) in accordance with the ongoing Reliance joint planning process and contains no unwarranted duplication of effort among the military dep artments.

Work was performed by the Program Executive Office, Missiles and Space (PEO MS), Cruise Missile Defense Systems (CMDS) Project Office in Huntsville, AL. The US Army programmed a budget plan (FYDP) of $118M for the period FY 2003 to 2007 for start of the MTHEL development effort. This budget may be supplemented by IMoD to create a combined US-Israeli MTHEL development program.

Under the terms of the Letter of Request (LOR), Israel was expected to provide $35M in $7M increments per year, FY04 thru FY08, to support the MTHEL prototype development program. The MTHEL prototype program was restructured to provide the MTHEL prototype in FY08 with limited testing in FY09 due to Israel's reduced funding. MTHEL risk reduction/design verification tests and static/dynamic lethality tests against an extended threat set continued thru FY05 using the existing MTHEL Testbed at HELSTF. In FY04 and FY 05, Congress added $17.0 million and $8.0 million, respectively, for the MTHEL effort.

On 12 June 2001 TRW Inc., Redondo Beach, CA was awarded a $5,603,408 modification to cost-plus-fixed-fee contract DASG60-96-C-0155 for a MTHEL System Engineering Trade Study (SETS) for Israel. Work was performed in Redondo Beach, Calif., and was expected to be completed by Dec. 1, 2001. This is a sole source contract initiated on Feb. 28, 2001. The U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense Command, Huntsville, Ala., is the contracting activity.

In tests during late 2002, the Army used the high-energy laser to heat artillery shells, which exploded in flight. In earlier tests, the laser shot down 25 Katyushas, both singly and in salvos. Artillery shells generate far less heat than rockets do and are more difficult to track. Also, because rockets are pressurized, they are easier to blow up than shells.

On 05 November 2002 the Tactical High-Energy Laser (THEL) demonstrator - Mobile THEL (MTHEL) testbed - tracked, locked and fired a burst of photons on an artillery projectile. Seconds later, at a point well short of its intended destination, the projectile was destroyed. The test was conducted at the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command's High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility (HELSTF). The event occurred as part of a new series of tests to determine MTHEL testbed capabilities. The artillery projectile is only one of the many target sets to be tested. Though their diameters are nearly the same, the artillery projectile measures about two feet in length rather than the 10 feet of a Katyusha rocket. The artillery projectile's small size, combined with the lack of heat it gives off, makes it much more difficult to track.

On 27 June 2003 Northrop Grumman Space Technology, Redondo Beach, CA was awarded a $12,000,000 modification to contract DASG60-96-C-0155) for 22,800 direct productive person hours (DPPH) for Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser (MTHEL) and testbed operations and 35,500 DPPHs for MTHEL concept and technology development. Work was performed in Redondo Beach, Calif. (48%); White Sands Missile Range, N.M. (36%); and other multiple subcontractors all over the United States (16%), and was expected to be completed by Nov. 28, 2003. There was one bid solicited on March 3, 2003, and one bid was received. The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Huntsville, Ala., is the contracting activity.

On 21 August 2003 the U.S. Army and the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMoD) selected a Northrop Grumman Corporation design concept for the Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser (MTHEL) prototype. The laser could be in use in 2007. Since development began in 1996, the Army, the Israeli Defense Ministry and TRW had spent $250 million on the project through 2002.

The FY2005 budget request included $53.5 million in PE 63305A for Army missile defense systems integration, of which $39.0 million was for the mobile tactical high energy laser (MTHEL). The House bill would authorize the budget request. The Senate amendment would authorize an increase of $15.0 million for MTHEL. The conferees agreed to authorize an increase of $8.0 million in PE 63305A for MTHEL

MTHEL prototype development activities continued in FY05. The MTHEL acquisition strategy is to develop and integrate an operational weapon prototype using demonstrated chemical laser, advanced beam control and supporting technologies with links into both the Israeli and US Army operational architectures. Based on the detailed System Engineering Trade Studies, and static and dynamic lethality testing, the MTHEL product office in consultation with Israel Ministry of Defense Product Office selected demonstrated technologies to be integrated into a mobile tactical high energy laser system to address a common set of missions.

Interest from the Israeli government had hastened the development of a "mobile" (actually relocatable) THEL (MTHEL) by focusing on implementing a more compact and transportable operational version of the 3.8 micron wavelength DF laser. Evolving requirements from the customer, concerns about the logistics tail in fielding, and operating a relocatable system in a battlefield environment that employs toxic and corrosive chemicals caused the program to be terminated. As of early 2005 the THEL device was being used as a MTHEL risk reduction testbed at the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility (HELSTF).

As part of a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the FY2006 budget request for the Army, as he did when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz appeared before the Budget Committee, Senator Pete Domenici from New Mexico asked Army Secretary Dr. Francis J. Harvey and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker to reverse the Army's request to zero out funding for the U.S./Israeli Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser (MTHEL) project at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The program, for which $38.6 million was requested in 2004 for FY2005, was building a chemical laser capable of destroying enemy rockets and mortars (RAM). "MTHEL has proven successful against RAM threats. I believe we have an obligation to our troops to accelerate MTHEL operational capabilities to achieve better force protection through directed energy technology," Domenici said.

PE 0603305A Army Missile Defense Systems Integration Project TR3 Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser funded a chemical laser weapon system assessment and hardware design and risk reduction activities supporting design. In FY05 there was a Congressional add of $8.0 million for MTHEL in project TR3. In the FY06 budget request, all funding was realigned to higher priority requirements. With the remaining FY05 funding, PM was to perform an orderly shutdown, deliver an initial engineering design to address the current mortar and rocket threat, perform limited counter-mortar testing and prepare Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) testbed for storage. Project TR3 received an FY06 Congressional Add in the amount of $2.5 million for Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser (MTHEL).

The termination of the THEL/MTHEL programs served as a significant turning point in the Army's laser development. Employing toxic and corrosive systems in a battlefield environment that could operate with certainty in all weather conditions was a price that warfighters, even with a need for enhanced defensive system effectiveness, were unwilling to pay. This caused a reevaluation of the program's path as compared to what had been projected at the time of the 2001 DSB assessment. Building upon the knowledge gained from THEL/MTHEL (to include acquisition and track, aim point selection, beam control, kill assessment, as well as concepts of operations, logistics, and supportability), the Army embarked on a broader-based S&T program.

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