The Army Wants to Zap Drones Out of the Sky with Lasers
A new partnership would see Epirus’s Leonidas high power microwave directed energy weapon mated to a Stryker as a short-range air-defense (SHORAD) platform.
By arming the venerable Stryker armored fighting vehicle with a new air defense laser system, the Army hopes to protect against small airborne threats.
General Dynamics Land Systems, the company behind the United States’ Stryker armored vehicles and the Abrams main battle tank, is partnering with Epirus, a company that builds directed-energy anti-drone technology. The partnership would see Epirus’s Leonidas high power microwave directed energy weapon mated to a Stryker as a short-range air-defense (SHORAD) platform.
A General Dynamics (GD) release announcing the partnership is 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.”
Epirus’s Leonidas is essentially a trailer-mounted counter-electronics system that can eliminate multiple drone targets in a wide area or pinpoint single targets. A video of the Leonidas demonstrates the platform’s ability to take out numerous swarms of drones as well as single targets. However, artwork released by Epirus shows the Leonidas mounted to a Stryker roof rather than in a towed trailer configuration.
Along with the Leonidas anti-drone system, the companies also explained that they will be developing robotic vehicles that “feature modular architecture to maximize scalability and support future mission needs.” General Dynamics currently produces several different unmanned ground vehicles that the Army has evaluated.
General Dynamics and Epirus are not the only two companies running for the Army’s enhanced mobile SHORAD platform. Earlier last month, Raytheon announced that it had been awarded a $123 million contract with another company to field a Stryker-mounted air defense system, not unlike that of General Dynamics and Epirus.
Raytheon explained that the development contract had been awarded after “a series of realistic scenarios designed to evaluate the performance of the system, establish threshold requirements for the laser and demonstrate its technical maturity and readiness.” During the shoot-off, “soldiers operated the system and effectively tracked, identified and engaged a variety of targets.”
Unlike traditional air defense systems, which fire small surface-to-air missiles or large-diameter projectiles, a directed-energy system has a virtually unlimited magazine capacity and does not need to periodically reload as long as the system is supplied with sufficient electrical power. Cost per shot is therefore dramatically reduced, a boon to budgets and logistics.
The U.S. Army’s new SHORAD competition has two strong contenders, though which system ultimately goes atop the Stryker armored vehicle remains to be seen.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer with the National Interest. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.