With drones emerging as a potent force in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars, the US Army is doubling down on laser technology to hunt down enemy weapon systems. It has awarded a $95.4 million contract for advanced Directed Energy (DE) prototype development to a private company BlueHalo.

“This contract enables BlueHalo’s continued work to design and build cutting-edge laser weapon systems for the warfighter–delivering multiple prototypes with increased automation, efficiency, performance, and ruggedization along with improved size, weight, and power (SWAP),” said the company in its release.

The project is part of the Laser Technology Research Development and Optimization (LARDO). While the UA Army has only recently started using the company’s laser system, it seems quite pleased with the results as is highlighted by the new contract. Here’s everything we know about the weapons system and the implications of the multi-million-dollar contract.

The weapon system in question is the Locust system which is integrated into the Palletized High Energy Laser (P-HEL) system. BlueHalo delivered the first of these in April 2022 while it was employed operationally in November that year. The US Army deployed a second P-HEL System overseas earlier this year.

According to BlueHalo, its Locust Laser Weapon System (LWS) “addresses the inherent need for mobility and quick deployment–tracking, identifying, and engaging of a wide variety of targets with its hard-kill high energy laser.”

It can create a beam with an output power of almost 20 kW. The Locust LWS boasts an advanced gimbaled electro-optical tracking system that can track threats in clear or cluttered skies. According to BlueHalo, “Multiple camera payload options provide a wide field of view, aiding in early target identification and tracking. This system pairs with our High Energy Laser (HEL) and other effectors to neutralize threats.”

US Army Doubles Down on Laser Weapon System

It’s a “hard kill” weapon system, which for the uninitiated means the ability to destroy the target which can be a piece of equipment or personal. In contrast, soft kill systems only disable and not permanently destroy.

For obvious security reasons, the US Army hasn’t disclosed much about the deployment and results of the weapon system. However, Doug Bush, the Army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics, and technology, recently told Forbes “They’ve (laser weapons) worked in some cases.”

Without naming the weapon system or the company behind them, he confirmed that laser weapons were used in the Middle East. Bush sounds quite happy with their performance though and said, “In the right conditions, they’re highly effective against certain threats.”

While Bush didn’t explicitly name BlueHalo, he was seen as referring to the company only while talking about the weapon system. The new contract award corroborates that the Army is impressed with the system and wants to double down on their deployment. It is pouring more money into BlueHalo so that it can develop even stealthier variants of the laser weapon system.

Why Laser-Guided Weapons Could be a Gamechanger

There has been an increase in attacks from cheap drones and missiles on US assets in the Middle East as well as on US Navy warships operating in the Red Sea. Even in Russia-Ukraine and Russia-Ukraine, low-cost drones have proved their mettle, and the costs of defending them far exceed the cost of producing a drone.

In an article titled “Drones Reduce US Military Capabilities,” public policy think tank Hoover Institution noted that cheap drones could be produced in “millions” by adversaries which can tilt a battle unfavorably for the US.

It added, “It would be unsustainable for the United States to deploy forward bases and logistics depots in a major war when defense costs ten to twenty times more than offense.”

While the article seemed to suggest that the Pentagon should give up its taste for (only) high-cost weapon systems and look at low-cost drones, the laser weapon systems that the US Army is successfully using in the Middle East could also be an alternative.

BlueHalo is upbeat that its weapon system would help the US Army answer the growing threats from UAS (unarmed aircraft system) and said, “The LOCUST system combines precision optical and laser hardware with advanced software, artificial intelligence (AI), and processing to enable and enhance the directed energy “kill chain,” which includes tracking, identifying, and engaging a wide variety of targets with its hard-kill HEL.”

AI advancements indeed could decide the course of future wars and no wonder we’re seeing an AI war between the US and China – the world’s two most powerful countries.


Can You Invest in BlueHalo?

The US Army contract is also a testimony to BlueHalo’s capabilities which is a partner for several Pentagon programs. It acquired Eqlipse Technologies earlier this year and while announcing the deal it noted that after the deal it would have 2,400 employees while its annual revenues would be nearly $1 billion.

Since BlueHalo is a private company, only accredited investors can invest in the company. This makes it much more difficult to invest in but it’s not impossible. SpaceX is another major private company that works with the Pentagon andmany investors are interested in it. If you really want to get in on the action and are an accredited investor, you can reach out to employees with equity and OTC market makers to try to get some shares.