On June 26, 1999 the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) laser subsystem achieved "first light" at the TRW Capistrano Test Facility in California. "First light" is the first successful test of a laser. The test demonstrated the end-to-end capability of the laser subsystem and demonstrated the laser optical control of extracting a high-energy laser beam.
The THEL ACTD was initiated in April 1996 after the Administration announced that the United States and Israel would undertake a joint effort to evaluate the effectiveness of a THEL against the threat posed by Katyusha rockets to populated areas in northern Israel. Paul Kaminski, at that time the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, and retired Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran, director general, Israeli Ministry of Defense, signed a memorandum of agreement, formalizing the agreement in July 1996. The MOA provides for development and functional testing of a THEL demonstrator, consisting of a laser; pointer-tracker; and command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) subsystems.
The United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command is the executive agent of the joint THEL ACTD program for the Department of Defense. The Israeli Ministry of Defense has also designated a program office to oversee the joint development effort. TRW Inc. was selected as the primary civilian contractor to design, build, and integrate the THEL demonstrator. Program developers have driven the ACTD weapon system development from start to hardware completion and have achieved laser first light in three years by utilizing mature beam generation and beam pointing technologies to develop a THEL demonstrator.
Under the current schedule the laser and pointer-tracker subsystems will be transported to White Sands Missile Range, N.M., to be integrated with the C3I subsystem later this summer. This ACTD has demonstrated the ability to cut through the traditional weapon developmental processes to provide a limited operational capability to the user in a very short period of time.