NEWTOWN, Conn.: What is left of the system once known as Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser (MTHEL) serves as a foundation for testing and demonstration of at least one offshoot system that stands some chance of production in the future. Although direct funding for development of MTHEL stopped some years ago, the technology that very nearly brought it to fruition continues to be exploited as much as possible.
The U.S. Army is actively seeking a vehicle-mounted solid-state laser under a High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL TD) program. The service in 2007 awarded Phase I development contracts to Northrop Grumman, who is offering technology based on MTHEL.
MTHEL was once a promising joint U.S./Israeli program that promised to bring missile defense to the Middle Eastern nation’s borders. Interest in MTHEL technology has been revived on and off since its retirement, especially whenever fighting between Israel and Hezbollah flares up.
Northrop Grumman has introduced an offshoot of the system, called Skyguard, which is claimed to be less costly and more easily transportable than the original system. While corporate-funded research related to MTHEL is apparently ongoing along with myriad other laser-related projects under the DoD’s High Energy Laser Test Facility program, long-term funding for specific work on the system remains terminated.
The Army’s FY09 RDT&E budget actually has a line for MTHEL but shows no funding through 2013.