Army modifies Northrop laser contract

U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Web site

The Army awarded a $12 million contract modification to Northrop Grumman Space Technology late last week for further development of the Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser (MTHEL).

The laser is a joint program of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command and the Israeli Defense Ministry. It is designed to intercept incoming artillery rounds and surface-to-surface missiles with a focused, high-energy laser.

The contract calls for Northrop Grumman to provide 22,800 man-hours for test-bed operations and another 35,500 man-hours for concept and technology development. According to the Space and Missile Defense Command, a competitive bid was solicited March 3 and one bid was received.

This fiscal year, the program receives nearly $3.5 million. Over the next three years, DOD estimates the laser program will receive $39.7 million, $39.6 million and $24.7 million.

In November 2002, the system was successfully tested at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It was, according to the Army, the first time that a laser successfully destroyed an artillery projectile in flight.

The system tracked, locked onto and fired a burst of protons at an incoming round. The projectile was destroyed seconds later. The artillery shell, about two feet long, is more difficult to track than an incoming missile because of its small size and the lack of a heat signature associated with a missile's rocket.

The MTHEL comprises three major subsystems: the command, control, communications and intelligence subsystem; the pointer-tracker subsystem; and the laser subsystem.

The project stems from the Tactical High Energy Laser, an advanced concept technology demonstration program initiated in 1996.

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