Maybe — just maybe — the U.S. is going to get laser weapons in Iraq, after all. Last week, Reuters reported that the Army had “balked” at deploying Northrop Grumman’s Tactical High Energy Laser air defense system. But a Defense Tech informant, pointing to this MIT Technology Review article, says Reuters may have blown the story.
The Pentagon hasn’t announced its decision on deployment of the prototype laser, [so] it can’t be said that it “balked”… Lt. Col. [Jeff] Souder, [who manages directed energy projects at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal] said “We’re exploring our options in how to put chemical lasers in the hands of our soldiers as soon as possible.“
Another reason I think [THEL deployment] is a real possibility is that [Brig.Gen. John] Urias just arrived in Baghdad and is in control of acquisitions for the operations in Iraq. He oversaw the MTHEL [mobile THEL] program from Washington for several years and was the one who pushed it towards solid state lasers [as opposed to chemically-powered lasers like THEL, which generate more power but require giant vats of toxic materials to operate — ed]. He also has said recently that he thinks they moved towards solid state too soon…
Another wrinkle in this premise is that I know several high-ranking
MTHEL officials, including Souder and Aden, were in Israel all last week. [THEL has co-developed with the Israelis, and THEL’s radar system has already been put to use in Israel — ed.] I think that means they might have been discussing putting the prototype in Sderot in time for the disengagement. Or it might mean that they are considering the $25 million quarter-scale “relocatable” THEL for future disengagements. A big caveat should go here — I imagine that there are several Pentagon people who don’t want to see the laser go to Israel, with its proclivities for sharing technology with the Chinese. The radar was one thing — it was an Israeli radar built for the prototype. But giving the laser to Israel seems like a huge leap for the Pentagon to take, considering all the foul-ups in our defense relationship with them recently.
Sam Jaffe, who wrote the Technology Review story, adds, “I’m convinced that before the end of this year we’ll see a historic first: a laser shooting down a hostile projectile in a real combat zone.”