For the Space and Missile Defense Command, defending the high ground begins in research laboratories where engineers and scientists work on cutting-edge technology.
Employees of SMDC’s Space and Missile Defense Technical Center develop new technologies that enable warfighter dominance. Their efforts include science and technology, and research and development in the fields of directed energy, high energy lasers, space, hypersonics, integrated air and missile defense, high altitude and related areas.
These research and development teams are led by Tom Webber, SMDC Technical Center director. Webber said the TC plays an important role, because modernization and innovation are vital to the Army, especially in terms of combat scenarios.
“The Technical Center is focused each day on innovating and transforming the future Army through revolutionary research, development, test and evaluation,” Webber said. “The team’s work is absolutely critical to developing the best technologies for our warfighters. Through their hard work and dedication to the mission, every day, we have developed new state-of-the-art technologies that will change the way we fight and win wars.”
One area of work for the TC team is high energy lasers.
Members of the TC’s HEL team are collaborating with and utilizing facilities at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in its research efforts into HEL. There and at other locations, the TC is conducting experiments to better understand how a high power laser beam propagates through the atmosphere, performing experiments that develop techniques to better understand fiber laser phenomenology, investigating innovative approaches for using atmospheric compensation approaches so that HEL weapon systems can become more effective in a wider variety of weather conditions and researching new types of laser sources.
Current demonstration platforms are providing important information and risk reduction in support of Army’s efforts to rapidly deliver combat-capable laser weapon prototypes to Soldiers.
“After two decades of investments in solid state laser technology at the SMDC Tech Center, we are seeing the fruit of this revolutionary weapon technology on the verge of being handed over to the warfighter,” Adam Aberle, chief of the TC HEL Division, said. “With this transition, we are now able to look harder at the future capabilities that HEL systems can bring to the warfighter. Working closely with the Army’s Research Laboratory, we are conducting research and laboratory experiments to identify new and compact high energy laser sources.”
Aberle said the HEL team is now focusing their science and technology research activities on delivering new and revolutionary capabilities to the warfighters. Over the past several years, the HEL team has taken subscale demonstrators out to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for participation in the Maneuver Fires Integrate Experiment where on multiple occasions Soldiers were able to use a HEL system engage various targets.
“Just earlier this year we were able to take the High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and allowed cadets the opportunity to shoot the laser system at unmanned aircraft systems,” Aberle said. “These are truly exciting times for high energy laser within the Army and especially at SMDC.”
In addition to HEL efforts, the Tech Center’s Space Directorate is completing two satellite projects known as Gunsmoke-J and Lonestar in the near future. If these demonstrations are successful, the tactical warfighter may benefit with new and game changing capabilities.
Gunsmoke-J is a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration. This science and technology effort will provide new and advanced capabilities to the tactical warfighters in a small satellite that is about the size of a loaf of bread. The effort will also help inform future acquisition decisions.
The Lonestar project consists of two satellites which will demonstrate new capabilities to the tactical warfighter. This effort will showcase a sensor designed to provide space-based situational awareness directly into the hands of the tactical warfighter.
“Gunsmoke-J and Lonestar are examples of our focus at SMDC which is developing science and technology into new, game changing capabilities for the tactical ground warfighter,” Wheeler “Chip” Hardy, division chief, TC Space Directorate’s Space Applications Division, said.
Another way the TC is looking to the future is using Precision Track and Search, or PTS, Ku-Band Interferometric Radar System to test Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar technology.
The TC has utilized the PTS system since 2007 to provide support to various Army organizations during the engineering and acceptance testing of their tactical systems prior to deployment into theater to directly support the warfighter.
Jordan Dupree, TC Test Directorate general engineer, said by 2010, the PTS 1 radar system earned a reputation among Counter-Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar Land-Based Phalanx Weapon System for providing reliable, high quality support and was promoted to the primary truth sensor for all future C-RAM test events.
In 2011, the TC was funded by the C-RAM Project Directorate to build a higher-powered 2nd generation PTS radar system, known as PTS 2 or C-RAM-1, implementing newer technology and filling capability gaps observed from the five years of support with the legacy PTS 1 system.
“Since 2011, the two PTS radar systems have worked in tandem supporting both internal and external Army test customers; most notably, providing continued support to the Program Executive Office Missiles and Space Short and Intermediate Effectors for Layered Defense and the Integrated Fires/Rapid Capabilities Office Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System test campaigns, both formerly under the C-RAM Project Directorate,” Dupree said.
The TC is also conducting quantum experiments, according to Travis Taylor, principal investigator, TC Quantum Entanglement and Space Technologies Lab.
Taylor said the goals for the QuEST Lab are to become a world class quantum information sciences for small space research team, characterize the behavior of critical small satellite subsystems required for future photonic information sciences applications and create a future workforce for SMDC that has hands-on experience in the development of small satellite secure communications and quantum sensing technology.
“The end goal here is to use quantum key distribution as a test for measuring the performance of the photonic information components in the small satellite application in the space environment,” Taylor said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many changes in day-to-day operations across the Army, Webber says the Tech Center’s work remains vital and the team continues to further their work during this time.
“It is humbling to see their resolve to continue to execute our important mission even during these difficult times,” Webber said. “I am in awe every day at their accomplishments and the significance of the work they do. It is a testament to their professionalism, resiliency, and dedication to our mission and to each other.”
Webber said the work continues because he and his team believe their work will make a huge difference to the warfighters.
“I truly believe in the work we are doing and know what we are doing now will have tremendous impact for our warfighters in the future,” Webber said. “I am very excited about our future and all the new efforts we have underway to expand our laboratory capabilities. Our goal is to ensure we continue to build and retain a quality workforce capable of delivering the relevant technologies our Army needs to maintain superiority now and in the future.”