The US Army has woken up to the fact they are currently very unprotected from air attacks. During the 90s and Oughts, the US Army assumed the US Air
Force would be able to provide air dominance and, in order to save on money in an era of limited budgets and/or ground wars, the Army decided to
pretty much neglect its air defenses. In that era, it made some sense to do so: no air force on the planet could have challenged the USAF at the
Times, though, have changed.
With the introduction of a true 5th generation fighter in China and the development of foreign stealthy bombers, the world is starting to close with
the US on technology. Like economic convergence, there is a technological one as well. While the US has been the leaders in miltech for a long time,
by and large, if not quite all areas, we are entering an era where the areas the US Army needs to put boots on ground cannot be swept clear of enemies
To deal with this, the US Army has recently bought an air defense system to be mounted on Strykers(1). However, this is a short range and interim
solution. It also does not fill the C-RAM (Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar) defense role. To make matters worse, should the US Army be faced
with an enemy with a comparable or larger economy and far combatants, the Leonardo derived air defenses would be exhausted quickly and we'd be faced
with a massive financial (as well as casualty) bill. To address this, the Army has been looking at other options. Lasers have long been a
An electrically driven lasers, unlike the ones from the SDI era which were either chemically or nuclear driven, can down missiles, artillery shells,
etc for tens of dollars per shot. And, so long as you have fuel to generate electricity, you have an extremely deep magazine: an M-1 tank engine
produces 1.2 MW of power. That's enough to power, continuously, over ten military grade lasers: military grade being 100 kw or more.
Recently, Lockheed demonstrated a 60 kw fiber laser on the back of a truck. Raytheon has(2) now been awarded a contract for a 100 kw laser on the
same size (or smaller) truck. These are not yet purely tactical, where they would rumble alongside the tanks and infantry carriers, but they would be
smaller than the Patriot missile systems. While they would be limited to line of sight, you can't out run the speed of light. if you can see it,
you can kill it(3).
Once Raytheon delivers, it's highly likely the US Army will go into a program of record and procure relatively off the shelf lasers for its air
defenses. That's not to say they will not continue developing them for putting laser weapons on vehicles that can run along with the tanks and
whatnot, but very soon, lasers will be on the battlefield for the US at least(4).
And that will cause some nontrivial shifts in how wars will be fought.
3. Don't start with the mirrored surface nonsense. That was tested. It doesn't work. A mirror is almost impossible to keep perfectly clean on
the battlefield and those smudges and pits will allow the laser to work through. Also, the mirror needs to be tuned for a specific laser wavelength,
otherwise, too much energy gets through. Each type of laser will have a different wavelength and it becomes a massively losing prospect to put layer
after layer on a shell or missile. And, despite what Anakin Skywalker thought, spinning an aircraft is just a great way to make the pilot throw
4. And China, tbh.