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article imageOp-Ed: Boeing HEL MD laser ‘death ray’ changes the face of war

By Paul Wallis     Oct 9, 2012 in Technology
Sydney - Military lasers have been around for a while, but this one’s a bit ambitious. It’s a working anti-missile and potentially anti-artillery weapon. This isn’t the usual dream scenario, either. This thing works.
Naval lasers have been shown able to defeat missiles and aircraft. These very high power weapons need massive amounts of energy. Boeing previously developed an air-mounted system that needed most of an airliner as a power source. The HEL-MD is a much more economic affair.
HEL MD is a package. It uses a “ruggedized” laser mounted on a truck in combination with combat forces. As a truck mounted weapon, you’ll have already gathered that it’s a lot more efficient in terms of power sourcing and operational flexibility. A 500hp truck with a box and a “searchlight” laser mount come with tracking systems and more likely than not a built-in interface with combat and higher echelon signal networks.
Trucks, in combat, are traditionally considered soft targets, but this one can hit back. The Army is being understandably coy about specifics, but if you consider the environment of a basic complex war scenario, obviously the idea is that this system isn’t going to require a lot of babysitting in a firefight.
It can also apparently protect troops from a range of nasty possibilities. The most interesting, and most challenging thing about this system is the idea of dealing with incoming ordinance. Even the idea of shooting down mortar shells, some of which are big, fast and dangerous things, is a relatively new development. A few years ago the Israelis invented an effective tank defence system to deal with RPGs, and this is a step further down that road.
To do anything useful in this scenario, HEL MD needs to be able to fire like a camera. Focused laser beams can be generated quickly, but the real issue is in accurate targeting. If multiple rounds of heavy stuff are coming in, how to prioritize targets is another issue. Good accuracy could decimate a conventional artillery or mortar strike.
HEL MD also provides a lot of problems for its opponents. What can’t it knock out? Can it be tank mounted, and if so, how do you deal with tanks with HEL MD technology? Anti-tank weapons, aircraft and choppers could get chewed up in a hurry, and the tanks would go on the rampage. Can HEL MD manage heavy duty armor piercing darts? If it can, it’s a major issue for armies around the world.
How do you knock out a HEL MD unit? This thing would be in more danger from bullets than conventional anti-vehicle rounds, and you’d have to get close enough against a defensive covering screen to even get a shot at it.
HEL MD isn’t the end of this story. It’s the beginning of a new generation of weapons. The days of metal slugs, AP and HE may well be coming to an end. The counter weapons will need to manage a different spectrum of capabilities. HEL MD’s descendants will be more powerful, more economical of resources and probably have more capabilities. The truck may become a low profile, fast moving platform and possibly remotely guided.
War just went upmarket. Watch this technology, because HEL MD is its first baby steps.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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