A Stryker combat vehicle equipped with a 5kW laser and an array of sensors spent several minutes scanning the horizon for a wayward "enemy" drone at Fort Sill, Ok., last April.
In a nearby tent off Thompson Hill--a range used during the 10-day Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) here--observers watched the black and white output of the Stryker's sensors on two flat-screen televisions. 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--an experimental project called the Mobile High-Energy Laser, or MEHEL.
Lt. Col. Jeff Erts, who serves as the chief of experimentation and wargaming with the Fires Battle Lab at the Fires Center of Excellence, said the MEHEL was just one of three drone-killing systems under evaluation at the 2017 MFIX. At this MFIX, the top of the list was finding better ways to pinpoint targets to put fires on, Erts said.
Another priority 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 with a less-powerful laser and this is the first year uniformed Soldiers were actually tasked with using the system to take down actual aerial targets.
Capt. 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, Tx. 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...