Aug. 5 (UPI) -- Raytheon has been contracted by the U.S. Air Force to produce high energy laser weapon systems that will be field tested for about a year.
The $23.8 million contract, announced Friday by the Department of Defense, covers two HELW systems for experimentation and fielding against unmanned aerial system threats for at least 12 months.
Field assessment of the systems will be conducted outside the continental United States, with work under the deal expected to be finished in November 2020.
The systems consist of 10-kilowatt lasers mounted on ground-based vehicles, and the Air Force said they can be useful against the small drones used by the Islamic State, as well as against a variety of other attack drones -- including drone swarm concepts many countries, including the United States, are working on.
"The fact that it's a laser weapon allows you to put energy in target at the speed of light," Michael Jirjis, leader of the Air Force's directed energy experimentation projects, told the Washington Post. "It can be an instantaneous heating event."
The HELW system uses invisible beams of light to track and target hostile drones as part of Raytheon's multi-spectral targeting system, which the company said has logged more than four million operational flight hours. The system is mounted on and operates from a Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicle.
The Air Force is currently working with Raytheon on two heat-based systems -- a laser and a high-power microwave -- with the two-prototype order as the first operational field assessment of the weapons.
The Air Force announced plans to push forward on developing the weapons after successful testing in 2018 and early 2019.
"Right now, we need to put capability on the field and see what's being offered," Jirjis told Air Force Magazine in April. "Eventually, we'd like to move these systems to a low-rate initial production, but there's a lot of learning that still needs to be done before we get there."
Raytheon also has been working with the Army to develop a laser weapon.
In June, the Marine Corps announced it is testing a Boeing-made ground-based, portable laser prototype -- also meant to shoot down drones -- called the Compact Laser Weapons System, or CLaWS.