The Marine Corps is moving towards a future in which small dispersed units can protect themselves from incoming enemy drones with laser weapons and from missiles and aircraft with Stinger missiles, with both weapons netted into a detection system and mounted atop Humvees, Joint Light Tactical Vehicles and other combat vehicles.
Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for combat development and integration, said a Ground-Based Air Defense (GBAD) Directed Energy On-The-Move concept demonstrator with the Office of Naval Research is nearing the start of Phase 3, moving from firing a 30-kilowatt laser at a target from atop a stationary ground vehicle to firing while on the go. Upon completion of the ONR program, around 2022, the GBAD DE OTM system would transition into a program of record in the Marine Corps and likely reside alongside the Stinger missile system as a ground unit self-protection system – giving those units a much-needed upgrade after operating with the Stinger for decades.
Walsh said the Marines operated in a permissive environment in Iraq and Afghanistan for 15 years, “but when we see near-peer competitors, the development that’s going on in Russia and China, it is really waking us up to what we’re going to have to do in the future,” noting the concepts of operations and requirements for future systems are already evolving rapidly to keep up. “So we look at our air defense capability as certainly a weak area that we have not upgraded in a long time because we haven’t had to deal with that in the operating environment we’ve been in,” he told the audience at the second-annual Directed Energy Summit, cohosted by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment.