New laser weapon can safely destroy IEDs from distance

Dec. 1, 2009 at 7:43 PM
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala., Dec. 1 (UPI) -- A new laser weapon mounted on an Avenger combat vehicle has gone through successful tests to enable the armed forces to destroy improvised explosive devices from a safe distance.

The Boeing Co., which is developing the weapon, said Tuesday Boeing and the U.S. Army successfully completed a test in which the mounted laser system destroyed 50 IEDs similar to the makeshift bombs used by adversaries in war zones.

IEDs have been responsible for a rising number of allied casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, U.S. forces took the brunt of recent attacks involving IEDs -- often crudely made bombs with deadly killing capability.

It was not immediately known how soon after the tests the new laser weapon would be deployed in the military. A Boeing spokesman told United Press International that, when funded, a system similar to the one being tested could be fielded within one year.

During the laser firings Sept. 22-24 at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., Laser Avenger neutralized different types of IEDs, including large-caliber artillery munitions and smaller bomblets and mortar rounds.

The laser weapon operated at safe distances from the targets and under a variety of conditions, including different angles and ranges, Boeing said.

When deployed in wartime conditions, the laser weapon would rule out or take over some of the functions that endanger soldiers' lives. Soldiers traveling with Laser Avenger would not have to get out of their armored vehicles or wait for an explosive ordnance disposal team to destroy an IED and continue their mission.

Developments in anti-IED technologies coincide with the likelihood of a greater number of troops being deployed in the Afghan war zone to deal with the armed groups.

"Improvised explosive devices continue to threaten U.S. troops deployed in war zones, and Laser Avenger provides the ultra-precision, stand-off capability our warfighters need today to safely neutralize those threats," said Gary Fitzmire, vice president and program director of Boeing Missile Defense Systems' Directed Energy Systems unit. "In addition, Laser Avenger's versatility makes it useful in a wide range of battlefield conditions."

The U.S. Defense Department's Joint IED Defeat Organization sponsored the test, which was conducted by Boeing and the Army Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space.

Recent technological research has focused on laser technologies as a way of dealing with complex battle situations and minimizing human loss among the allied forces. The test follows work on other laser weapons earlier this year and last year. In an earlier demonstration, Laser Avenger shot down a small unmanned aerial vehicle, raising the possibility that the laser would take over other conventional weapons used to perform similar tasks today.

Laser Avenger integrates a laser weapon together with the existing kinetic weapons that form part of Avenger air defense system. Boeing has been pursuing research into developing military laser technologies and argues that laser weapons are increasingly relevant to today's battlefield.

Boeing is developing laser systems for a variety of U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy military applications, including the airborne variety. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems has headquarters in St. Louis and last reported global business worth $32 billion. The company employs 70,000 people worldwide.

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