The tactical high energy laser (THEL) program, conducted from 1996 to 2005, successfully demonstrated the capability of a high-energy laser to counter rockets, artillery, and mortars. The program was a US/Israeli cooperative research and development effort that was designated by the Secretary of Defense as an advanced concept technology demonstration with Presidential interest. The THEL system was designed and built under an SMDC/ARSTART prime contract awarded to TRW (now, Northrop Grumman Corporation), jointly managed by the Israel Ministry of Defence Directorate of Defence Research & Development. We summarize the effort and highlight some of the "firsts" of the THEL program.
Deuterium fluoride (DF) lasers have been under development since about 1970. Their intrinsic ability to store high levels of energy internally plus their ability to quickly dispose of waste heat by the convective flow of exhaust gases make this type of laser attractive to the Army for producing high power levels for an air and missile defense weapon system. This paper reviews the basic principles of a DF laser, the chemistry and spectroscopy associated with producing an excited DF lasing molecule, and the generation of a high power laser beam. This paper also reviews the development history of DF lasers and early lethality demonstrations. This includes a detailed discussion of the Army’s recent Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) Demonstrator, its architecture and successes during engagements of in-flight rockets and artillery projectiles. The Army is moving forward in developing a new generation, high power DF laser weapon system, the Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser (MTHEL). This system will provide our soldiers protection in the future against a variety of airborne threats.
The Nautilus Project was started in 1995 as a joint US-Israel feasibility study for using laser systems to defend against short-range artillery rockets. It has now matured into a successful laser weapon demonstration program - the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) Program. By now the THEL Demonstrator has engaged and destroyed a large number of artillery rockets in mid-flight in an extended series of demonstration tests at the US Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The THEL ACTD hardware and development process are described in this paper, as well as the major test results. The paper also describes the operational concept for a deployed THEL weapon system and some possible growth paths for the THEL ACTD Program.