General Dynamics Land Systems, a global leader in providing innovative, high technology and next-generation ground combat solutions to customers, announces on October 25, 2021 a Strategic Teaming Agreement with Epirus, Inc., a high-growth technology company developing directed energy systems that enable unprecedented counter-electronics effects. GD and Epirus will collaborate to integrate the Leonidas directed energy system and broader high-power microwave technology into the U.S. Army’s Stryker and other manned and autonomous ground combat vehicles for enhanced mobile Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD) capabilities.
«General Dynamics Land Systems continues to evolve the Army’s largest and most reliable ground combat vehicle fleet with next-generation innovation and high-tech solutions», said Danny Deep, President of General Dynamics Land Systems. «This partnership with Epirus benefits the Army’s Stryker mobile SHORAD formations by offering cutting-edge, counter-electronics and counter-swarm capabilities».
In addition to Stryker upgrades, the company also is developing a class of robotic combat vehicles that feature modular architecture to maximize scalability and support future mission needs, Deep said.
Leonidas’ integration with Stryker enables a fully mobile counter-electronics solution and demonstrates the system’s flexible Application Programming Interface (API) and ability to integrate with existing ground-based, airborne and maritime systems for operation across domains. The system’s open API allows for maximum interoperability to meet the mission needs of multiple customer sets. Leonidas delivers unprecedented power and performance in a dramatically smaller form factor and is the only directed energy weapon with a proven ability to counter swarming drones and execute precision strikes at range.
«Having the support of one of the largest, most innovative and technologically advanced defense contractors further deepens our industry credibility and the market appeal for Epirus’ directed energy product portfolio. With Leonidas integrated into GD’s combat vehicle fleet, we are unlocking new SHORAD and counter-electronics capabilities to equip our warfighters with combat effective systems that dismantle the threats of today and tomorrow. I look forward to continuing our partnership with our General Dynamics Land Systems colleagues and know that, together, we can deliver on our customers’ mission needs», said Leigh Madden, Epirus Chief Executive Officer.
The Army recently conducted a successful evaluation of a new directed-energy capability, moving the service one step closer to fielding a platoon of four laser-equipped Stryker combat vehicle prototypes next fiscal year, program leads said Wednesday.
The Directed Energy Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense system, or DE M-SHORAD, is a 50-kW-class laser designed to protect divisions and brigade combat teams against unmanned aircraft systems, rotary and fixed-wing threats, rockets, artillery, and mortars, said Marcia Holmes, the deputy director of hypersonics, directed energy, space and rapid acquisition.
«Our goal is to deliver prototypes that Soldiers can use as the mission requires and that the Army can leverage as a baseline for a program of record», Holmes said. «A Soldier-centered design is a key part to reduce risk and to ensure an operationally effective weapon system».
A strong partnership between the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office and science and technology industry leaders led to the development and implementation of the first prototype in 24 months, Holmes said.
The addition of the DE M-SHORAD and other directed-energy capabilities like the Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High Energy Laser, or IFPC-HEL, and IFPC-High Power Microwave are all designed to complement the Army’s kinetic air defense capabilities, said Craig Robin, deputy director of the RCCTO’s directed energy project office.
The unique design of the DE M-SHORAD leverages the Stryker’s gas-powered engine to energize its batteries, cooling system, and laser. The self-contained system has enough electricity to address multiple threats at a time before needing a period to recharge, he said.
«There are places where directed energy can provide a significant advantage», he added. «All the bullets are built into the system, so the logistics associated with moving a platform and supplying it requires just gas and parts».
Robin added that directed-energy systems are also more cost-effective from a life cycle perspective, making them a strategic tool to take out low-cost threats like an UAS to save the Army’s kinetic capabilities.
The Army plans to demonstrate the DE M-SHORAD capabilities during Project Convergence 21 (PC 21), where it will participate in a joint and coalition exercise later this year, said Col. Scott McLeod, the program’s manager.
«PC 21 will be a big opportunity for us to show how we can integrate with our systems and demonstrate the capability against other threats», McLeod said.
In July, the prototype proved its abilities during a combat shoot-off at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. During the event, Soldiers faced several realistic scenarios intended to refine future DE M-SHORAD characteristics, as program leads collected extensive data and user feedback to refine the system, McLeod said.
In addition to Project Convergence 21, the DE M-SHORAD development team will make minor adjustments to improve the device’s performance in the coming months, followed by several internal system verifications, he added.
«We are delivering a brand new capability – it is not a modification or an upgrade. It is unlike any other system the Army has fielded to date», McLeod said. «This event was a major step in the prototyping process and an informative waypoint as we move forward with building and delivering a prototype platoon in fiscal year 2022».
In continuing efforts to revitalize and update the U.S. Army’s Air and Missile Defense forces and systems, the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment (5-4 ADA), a subordinate unit under the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, is the first battalion in the Army to test, receive, and field the Mobile Short Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD) system.
The M-SHORAD, which integrates existing guns, missiles, rockets and sensors onto a Stryker A1 vehicle, is the Army’s newest addition in a variety of modernization efforts. The system is designed to defend maneuvering forces against unmanned aircraft systems, rotary-wing and residual fixed-wing threats.
The 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command is U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s executive agent for all theater air and missile defense operations and force management. Since activating the battalion in 2018, 5-4 ADA has played a major role in supporting Allies and partners through their involvement in various joint and multinational training exercises across the European theater.
«This is truly a testament to our Army’s commitment to increase air and missile defense capability and capacity to the joint force, and especially here in Europe», said Brig. Gen. Gregory J. Brady, Commander of the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command. «Just under 3 years ago 5-4 ADA was the Army’s first SHORAD battalion activated in almost 13 years, and now they are proud again to be the first to lead the Army’s Air and Missile Defense modernization initiatives with M-SHORAD. The 10th AAMDC is proud to be a part of this Team effort and remains engaged, postured and ready to assure, deter, and defend the maneuver force in an increasingly complex Integrated Air and Missile Defense environment, shoulder to shoulder with our NATO Allies».
The Army utilized a rapid prototyping strategy to accelerate the timeline for M-SHORAD initial operating capability by four years, resulting in the delivery of a prototype system in approximately one year. In 2020, 18 Air and Missile Defense crewmembers from 5-4 ADA were selected to undergo a 6-month initial operational assessment with the prototype systems at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
«I developed a passion for this system», said Specialist Andy Mendoza, one of the crewmembers from 5-4 ADA to assess the first prototypes. «We learned how to operate in every position on these, but also how to take care of them. Being one of the gunners selected to be part of that, it was really a huge honor. I’m really proud to be able to bring what I learned back home to the rest of the crew».
«There’s really no comparison to anything I’ve operated in my career», said Sgt. Andrew Veres, an Air and Missile Defense crewmember with 5-4 ADA. «Everything in these systems is an improvement – the survivability, mobility, dependability, off road ability – it gives us the ability to stay in the fight longer».
The addition of the Stryker-based M-SHORAD system will provide better protection of maneuver forces at increased ranges and with improved mobility, allowing a stronger defense of U.S. forces, Allies and partners against adversary air threats. The unit initially received four systems in April, and is expected to receive more later this year, beginning its transition from an Avenger-based battalion to the first fully-operational M-SHORAD battalion in the U.S. Army.
«Our adversaries have invested heavily from their indirect fire up to their strategic missile assets, necessitating the modernization of our air and missile defense capabilities», said Brady. «M-SHORAD is a critical part of the Army’s comprehensive dedicated Air Defense Artillery capacity and augmented combined arms approach to be able to provide a multi-layered defense against all aerial threats».
The Army’s modernization strategy ensures continued overmatch in a fundamentally different future environment, part of which includes prioritizing the development of Air Defense systems to ensure a more capable force.
«All modernization efforts are focused on our ability to fight and win as a joint force – along with our allies and partners», said Gen. John M. Murray, Army Futures Command commanding general. «If we do not have the capability to fight and win, we do not have the capability deter. The speed through which our Army can deliver effects and get the right equipment to Soldiers in the field is critical».
The Army intends to field the M-SHORAD system to four additional Air and Missile Defense battalions beginning in 2021. Future development of follow-on M-SHORAD systems will incorporate technology insertions, to include directed energy and improved missiles, utilizing a mix of complementary DE and kinetic interceptor systems to protect maneuver forces.
«The Army’s air and missile defense force structure is growing and modernizing significantly to meet the threats of peer competitors and our obligation and commitment to providing air and missile defense forces to the joint fight», Murray said.
Responding to the U.S. Army’s urgent need for mobile air defense to protect ground troops, Raytheon Company integrated and demonstrated a Stinger air defense missile mounted on a Stryker armored fighting vehicle.
Raytheon incorporated the Stinger missile into a Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, or CROWS, and mounted it on a Stryker. During a late September demonstration at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the Army fired Stinger missiles from a Stryker vehicle and successfully intercepted airborne targets.
«With so many airborne threats in the battlespace, our ground forces need the protection of additional mobile air defense systems», said Kim Ernzen, Raytheon Land Warfare Systems vice president. «Combining these two proven systems gives the Army an immediate, low risk, high-value solution».
The Army is now evaluating the Stinger missile/Stryker vehicle solution.
The Stinger weapon system is a lightweight, self-contained air defense system that can be rapidly deployed by ground troops and on military platforms. It’s combat proven in four major conflicts and in use by more than 20 nations as well as all four U.S. military services.
A Stryker combat vehicle equipped with a 5-kW laser and an array of sensors spent several minutes scanning the horizon for a wayward «enemy» drone.
On a television screen in a nearby tent off Thompson Hill – a range used during the 10-day Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment here – observers watched the black and white output of those sensors on two flat-screen televisions, April 12. A crosshair was centered on the screen. When what appeared to be a drone entered the frame, the crosshairs locked on to it and followed it.
After a few attempts to destroy the drone with the laser, the drone fell from the sky, crashing to the ground. Not a bullet was fired, and no sounds were made by the system that accomplished the kill – an experimental project called the Mobile High-Energy Laser, or MEHEL.
The MEHEL is just one system the Army is looking at to deal with the growth of inexpensive off-the-shelf unmanned aerial systems that are being seen in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
2017 MFIX EXPERIMENTS
Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Erts, who serves as the chief of experimentation and wargaming with the Fires Battle Lab at the Fires Center of Excellence here, said the MEHEL was just one of three drone-killing systems under evaluation at the 2017 MFIX, which ran April 3-13.
Also included, he said, was a system called the Anti-UAV Defense System and another branded «Hunter/Killer». There were also command and control systems that provide a common air picture down to platoon and company level, radar systems that can conduct counter-artillery missions, but can also look into the sky, and an unmanned aerial system that can haul supplies to Soldiers on the front lines of combat.
That equipment and the personnel tasked to evaluate it, came to Fort Sill to participate in the 2017 MFIX, which Erts said is a collaboration between the Fires Center of Excellence and the Army Capabilities Integration Center. At MFIX, he said, over 40 industry partners and government leads participated, as well as Soldiers from around the United States.
At this MFIX, the Army was looking to accomplish several goals. At the top of that list was finding better ways to pinpoint targets to put fires on, Erts said.
«We’d like to know where our targets are at», he said. «So, the targets are out on the battlefield somewhere. We’d like to know exactly where they are, so we can use one of our precision munitions to hit it».
Another priority, he said, involved a bit of doctrinal work. Erts said the Army is interested in knowing if traditional fire supporting Soldiers are capable of executing a counter-unmanned aircraft system mission alongside their traditional artillery mission.
«We’re going to see if their plate is too full, or if they can do everything at once», he said. «But so far, it looks like they can do it».
Also on the agenda at the 2017 MFIX was a continued look at the use of high-energy lasers, he said. The MEHEL made its first appearance at MFIX last year, but then with a less-powerful laser.
«We are working with Space and Missile Defense Command, using their MEHEL to engage various targets, to include low-flying UAS», he said. This is the first year, he said, that uniformed Soldiers were actually tasked with using the system to take down actual aerial targets.
«They love the system and they are excited about not only what they can do with it in the air, but what they can do with it on the ground as well», he said.
Finally, Erts said, at this year’s MFIX the Army looked at new ways to deliver supplies to the edge of the battlefield using unmanned aerial systems, rather than convoys.
At the center of that effort was a project called the Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply System, which was also on display at MFIX.
«Let’s say a Soldier is out of ammunition and they need a resupply in an emergency situation», Erts said. «They could launch the UAS, and without putting any Soldiers in harm’s way, they could deliver that box of ammunition to the front lines».
NOT STAR WARS
If the 2017 MFIX had a «star», it was probably the MEHEL. This year, the Stryker configured with that system was marked «MEHEL 2.0», and it sported a 5-kW laser versus last year’s 2-kW laser.
The MEHEL 2.0 includes on-board radar, a second optic, increased laser power, and increased engagement range, Erts said. In addition to doing a «hard kill», such as what was seen when the on-board laser shot a drone out of the sky, the system can also do a «soft kill». That means instead of using a laser to destroy a drone, electronic warfare capabilities can be used to disable the communications link between a drone and its ground control station. Then, Erts said, «we can send artillery after the ground control station».
Also, a possibility after a soft kill on a drone is collecting that drone to gather intelligence information from it.
One thing the MEHEL does not do is make noise, or create any Star Wars-like visual effects. When the laser fires, there’s no sound that comes from the vehicle. And observers can’t actually see the laser emanating from the “beam director” on top of the Stryker, though if they were close enough to the target, they might see a hole being burned into it from the laser’s heat.
ENVISIONING LASER USE
Captain Theo Kleinsorge, who came last month to Fort Sill to participate in the MFIX, serves as the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-12 Cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas. During the MFIX, he replicated the role of an infantry company commander inside the MEHEL 2.0-equipped Stryker.
His primary role was to help determine if the MEHEL was something a forward-observer crew could handle, or if the capability needed to be moved somewhere else, such as into the air defense community. He said he was impressed with the MEHEL system, and sees the usefulness of directed-energy weapons elsewhere in the Army.
«It is absolutely a valuable system», Kleinsorge said, even beyond the ability to destroy a UAS. «Directed energy will hopefully very quickly see itself useful in the realm of breaching obstacle belts, in the realm of active defense, of not just shooting down UASs, but the ability to destroy incoming anti-tank missiles, mortars, field artillery rounds, across the whole of what the counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar mission is currently».
One benefit of the MEHEL system is that it doesn’t use ammunition to take down either a UAS or ground target. Practically speaking, the only thing MEHEL needs is fuel. The batteries required to fire the laser can be recharged from generators, which are powered by the same fuel that runs the Stryker’s engines.
«If the entire Army today adopted directed energy and it was able to solve all of our engagement problems, Class V ammunition would no longer exist, and Class III, our fuel, would now be essentially our only logistical requirement for the vehicle to be offensive», Kleinsorge said.
At MFIX, Kleinsorge said, his team took down about 50 actual targets using the laser onboard the MEHEL. Using directed energy to kill a target is something he said that none of the Soldiers involved had ever done before. Now, he said, he’s sold on the idea.
«From my foxhole as a young captain, I say I am excited to see this in the Army», Kleinsorge said. «We were skeptical at first, when we were first briefed we’d be shooting down drones with lasers. And by the end of it, it is absolutely more than feasible. We achieved a success rate well beyond what we expected we’d have. And we are excited to see this go to the next step of the experiment, shooting beyond the horizon, and showing this technology can solve the problem».
Spc. Brandon Sallaway, a fire support specialist and forward observer from Fort Carson, Colorado, was one of the crew that participated in the MFIX and who worked on the crew that piloted the MEHEL.
He said he found the system was easy to use, and easy to learn as well.
«It uses stuff, controllers, that we’re all familiar with», he said. «It takes about half an hour … to figure out the system, and then you’re good to go».
Sallaway was also the first uniformed Soldier to actually use the MEHEL to take down a target. Outside the vehicle, plastered onto the side, are an array of stickers that mark each kill the vehicle has made. He pointed to the one that represents his own kill.
«I’m really excited to be part of a historical event», he said. «And it’s really exciting … to see the Army working on the next generation of tools for us so that we can maintain our edge, the cutting edge. It’s mind-blowing stuff to think you are shooting a laser at something. Sometimes it’s hard to fathom».
UNMANNED AIRBORNE RESUPPLY
At MFIX, Soldiers aimed to do more than just blow up or disable enemy drones. Also on the agenda was using friendly drones to deliver supplies to Soldiers in need, so that manned convoys wouldn’t be needed.
«The problem we are trying to solve with the Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply System (JTARS) is how we conduct assured resupply over the last tactical mile to the point of need», said Captain Dustin Dunbar, with the Combined Arms Support Command, Sustainment Center of Excellence, Fort Lee, Virginia.
The JTARS used at MFIX was a 1/3 scale model «trainer», that really served as an example of what could be done, Dunbar said. The JTARS is meant to be a system, rather than particular vehicle.
At MFIX, the JTARS team demonstrated the capability the Army is after by using the trainer model. They had to move a pair of individual first aid kits from one location to another. They attached a few light-weight kits to a specially-built drone to serve as the payload. Then the drone lifted up off the ground and flew a preplanned route to a target destination, without needing a Soldier to guide it with a controller.
The current demonstration model carries about 5 pounds/2.27 kg. The expectation is that eventually the JTARS could provide the capability to carry up to 600 pounds/272 kg from a rear location to the front lines, where Soldiers might need anything from food to ammunition.
«So, if you can imagine a Stryker is out on the battlefield and it goes down», Dunbar said. «And that field maintenance team is working on it but they need a part from the rear. Rather than taking an entire convoy and going through convoy planning missions and stuff like that and getting on the road, instead you are just loading one piece of equipment – a repair part – within the JTARS and sending it point to point».
Critical to the JTARS concept is reaction time and assured resupply, Dunbar said.
Right now, Dunbar said, the model they have is capable of demonstrating what they want to do, though it might not be the final product. The existence of what they do have allows them to practice delivery of unmanned supplies and also allows them to practice getting access to airspace – something that sustainment units would have to learn to do if they were going to employ JTARS in a theater of operations.
«Your typical sustainment unit within the Army doesn’t have air assets», Dunbar said. «Plus, they lack the personnel, the structure, and the capability to plan, coordinate and deconflict airspace. So, we came out here with the Fires Battle Lab, essentially running the mission command piece of how to conduct this and the best practices to take back to hopefully make it to doctrine».
When Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan were imperiled by the destructive power of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), a variant of the armored Stryker combat vehicle sporting a specially-designed blast-diffusing hull saved countless lives.
Particularly suited for transporting infantry in urban environments, the Stryker combat vehicle has become popular among Soldiers in the most dangerous and rugged areas overseas. They know the vehicle to be quiet, reliable, and easy to maintain and repair.
The vehicle’s stellar performance is doubtless related to the extensive evaluation it has undergone at Yuma Proving Ground and its three subsidiary test centers since 2002, including a six-month stint in the jungles of Suriname in 2008. Earlier this year, a new variant of the vehicle wrapped up a winter of extreme use at the Army Cold Regions Test Center.
Boasting an upgraded chassis and drivetrain along with a variety of mechanical, electrical and digital improvements to enhance its performance, the latest Stryker variant was subjected to more than 3,000 miles/4,828 km driving across rugged terrain in extreme cold.
«It looks like a regular Stryker, but it isn’t», said Richard Reiser, test officer. «It has a larger engine that significantly increases horsepower and torque. It has a much greater diagnostic capability that integrates subsystems. This gives operators a greater awareness of vehicle health and potentially improves situational awareness during the actual mission in the vehicle».
In the world’s most frigid environments, cold starts can be harrowing even for the most rudimentary vehicles. For a complex system like the Stryker, each component’s ability to function in extreme cold is crucially important and was subjected to keen evaluation in temperatures far below freezing.
«Like automotive trends in general, we have much greater reliance on computer systems in these vehicles», said Reiser. «Those computer systems and subsystems integrated into the hull depend on a great deal of computer software and hardware».
Though a vehicle’s performance characteristics are similar in cold weather once a vehicle is started and sufficiently warmed up, dramatic fluctuations in temperature can degrade performance of any number of a vehicle’s components.
«Stopping distance and acceleration shouldn’t change profoundly in this environment», explained Reiser. «The real issues tend to be related to rapid temperature differentials. Each sub-zero temperature threshold tends to flush out small anomalies».
Testers went to great lengths to test in potential failure conditions. For example, after a long drive on the range the day before a particularly nasty drop in temperature was forecast, the testers used fans connected to long tubes snaking into the engine compartment and other vital areas of the vehicle to blow frigid air onto the components overnight.
«We adjust to capture things and be ready for those colder temperatures on short notice», said Reiser. «It’s a small crew and it’s easy to make adjustments to the mission profile to take advantage».
Throughout the test, the Army evaluators used the same vehicle that had been subjected to punishing hot weather testing the previous summer at Yuma Test Center, Arizona. Personnel travelled to Yuma to take part in the testing and instrumented the vehicle in a configuration that applied to testing in both climates.
«It provides not only continuity in the instrumentation process, but helped our technician get it done quicker while supporting Yuma’s effort as well», said Reiser.
The test was more than just endless driving. The performances of every special feature the vehicle boasts were scrutinized, from its communications suite to the central tire inflation system that adjusts tire pressure as the vehicle is in motion.
«Cross country miles accumulate slowly in this environment», said Reiser. «We didn’t have consistently cold weather, so we were able to move what sub-test activity we were doing based on its environmental relevance. If it is something that’s not so much impacted by extreme cold, we moved that to the less-cold times».
Soldiers from Fort Wainwright’s 25th Infantry Division also assisted in the testing by entering and exiting hatches of the vehicle while attired in the full complement of armor and Arctic battle dress, ensuring that everything in the vehicle could be reached without snagging their bulky gear.
«It was great coordination between the two tests to pick the appropriate miserable day to get the Soldiers to do some limited ingress-egress testing», said Reiser. «When this vehicle is fielded and the Soldiers have the new body armor, we’ll already know it isn’t an issue for ingress and egress».
The multi-month test was completed ahead of schedule and under budget, which Reiser attributes to the flexibility of the rugged, self-contained six-person crew. The drivers, for instance, were from the testing center’s maintenance shop. They were able to troubleshoot and repair problems that cropped up without lengthy downtime at a maintenance shop many miles from the test range.
«We were able to eliminate delay times when we went into maintenance because maintenance was right here», said Reiser. «If we had a vehicle issue, they just changed hats and researched from a different vantage point what they had to do to solve the problem, which was a huge cost savings».