SHiELD, FROM M-SHORAD…: are the US armies backtracking on high-energy lasers?

Only a few months ago, the American armies swore only by directed energy weapons, and in particular, by high-energy laser applications, in terms of anti-drone and C-RAM (Cruise- Rocket/Artillery/Mortar).

In recent weeks, however, the tone has changed. Indeed, in quick succession, two of the most emblematic programs in this field, the SHiELD program of the US Air Force, and the M-SHORAD Gardian program, of the US Army, were attacked from all sides, and now see their future seriously threatened.

It appeared, during the tests, that the constraints generated by these types of systems, in particular when it comes to embedding them on board armored vehicles or planes, are so significant that they largely counterbalance the expected capital gains.

US Air Force Airborne High Energy Laser SHiELD Program Abandoned

One of the most anticipated programs in this area was the Self-Protect High-Energy Laser Demonstrator, or SHiELD. Launched in 2016 on behalf of the US Air Force, this was to equip combat aircraft and support aircraft with airborne high-energy lasers, acting to protect aircraft from air-to-air and anti-aircraft missiles. , which could threaten them.

SHIELD Artwork program
One of the artworks illustrating the US Air Force's SHIELD program

Since its launch, apart from a few artworks and 3D animations, produced to support communication around the program, it had hardly shown any obvious signs of major progress. At best, a year ago, Boeing was able to carry out empty tests of its LPRD (Laser Pod Research & Development) transport pod, supposed to accommodate the high energy laser itself, aboard an F-15 .

However, the two other components of the program, the Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE) and the SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects (STRAGE), namely the laser itself, and the aiming and firing system, have, for their part, encountered numerous problems, it seems, having led the US Air Force to simply throw in the towel.

« The SHiELD program has ended, and there are no plans for further testing and evaluation“, declared Dr. Ted Ortiz, who leads the program at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), to journalists from the American site

LPRD laser pod boeing
Boeing tested its LPRD pod aboard an F-15 a few months ago. However, the POD did not carry any laser systems.

This unequivocal announcement follows another, made a few weeks earlier, concerning the cancellation of the second high-energy laser program on board an aircraft, in this case, the AHEL program. This was to replace the 105 mm cannon on board the AC-130 Ghostrider air support aircraft. The US Air Force cited “technical challenges” to justify abandoning this program.

US Army soldiers doubtful after DE M-SHORAD Gardian tests

The US Air Force has not been the only one to recognize, in recent weeks, major difficulties concerning its high energy laser programs. Thus, one of the most emblematic programs in this field, the US Army's M-SHORAD system, has anything but convinced the American military during its tests in operational zones.

Guardian of M-SHORAD US Army
The number of heat sinks surrounding the body of the DE M-SHORAD had alerted many specialists to the reliability of the system, but also its infrared vulnerability on the battlefield.

Indeed, several prototypes of the Guardian have been deployed by the US Army directly in theaters of operation, to study its operation, as close as possible to real conditions of use, particularly in Africa.

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  1. These are great commercial opportunities for Rheinmetal. We can quite easily imagine a German tube on the M109 chassis. It seems a little more delicate to me for Nexter or the K9, but you never know, sometimes, the necessity...
    In the same vein, Skynex has a good chance of success. On the other hand, for the AWACS and the tankers, the matter seems very complicated to resolve.


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