US Air Force Wants to Put Lasers on Fighter Jets By 2021

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Image: Air Force Research Lab

The US Air Force’s scientific badysis wing is giving Lockheed Martin $26.three million “for the design, development, and production of a high power fiber laser,” which it expects to begin testing on a tactical fighter jet in 4 years. Sounds cool and definitely futuristic, however the jury’s nonetheless out on whether or not these weapons have any actual tactical worth.

It appears like science fiction, however lasers—formally generally known as “directed-energy weapons”—have been utilized by the US Army’s floor forces for years. But now, the Pentagon’s Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) needs to take the following step and provides these seemingly futuristic weapons a set of wings. As introduced earlier this week, Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract as a part of AFRL’s Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program.

“Lockheed Martin continues to rapidly advance laser weapon systems and the technologies that make them possible,” mentioned Rob Afzal, a Lockheed laser weapons knowledgeable, in a press release. “We have demonstrated our ability to use directed energy to counter threats from the ground, and look forward to future tests from the air as part of the SHiELD system.”

Earlier this yr, Lockheed unveiled a 60 kilowatt-clbad laser that may be put in on vehicles, such because the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck—the US Army’s largest floor car. But now Lockheed has to make a laser that may be put in onto a fighter jet—no small activity provided that laser methods are usually huge and heavy. They’re additionally power hogs that must cooled each throughout and after use. The new laser might want to work in a good, compact surroundings, and be proof against the results of vibrations, temperatures, and large G forces. At the identical time, the system can not impair aeronautic efficiency.

“It’s a completely new and different challenge to get a laser system into a smaller, airborne test platform. It’s exciting to see this technology mature enough to embed in an aircraft,” mentioned Afzal. “The development of high power laser systems like SHiELD show laser weapon system technologies are becoming real. The technologies are ready to be produced, tested and deployed on aircraft, ground vehicles and ships.”

The SHiELD program itself consists of three totally different elements, all of that are being designed and developed by totally different producers. Northrop Grumman is presently at work on the beam management system, known as STRAFE, which will probably be used to direct the laser to the goal. Boeing is present growing a pod that will probably be mounted on the fighter jet to energy and funky the laser, and Lockheed Martin is engaged on LANCE—the excessive power laser itself. Once all these elements are introduced collectively, and as a part of the SHiELD program, AFRL will check the capabilities of a laser-equipped fighter jet to defend itself from the air or floor.

Lockheed didn’t disclose the facility of the pending laser weapon, however did say it’ll be within the “tens of kilowatts” vary. And as reported in Defense News, it’s additionally not identified which fighter jet will carry the laser or how the Air Force will check the weapon throughout the 2021 demos.

At an preliminary $26.three million price ticket, it’s cheap to ask if an extravagant weapon like that is even value it. Fighter jets have already got an badortment of air-launched weapons, together with standard bombs, missiles (together with ground-to-air missiles), and even torpedoes. Lasers (as already famous) require an incredible quantity of power, they’ve a brief vary, and so they suck in settings the place there’s haze, smoke, and dirt.

“Lasers are no substitute for guns and missiles,” in line with an evaluation put out earlier this yr by the Strategic Culture Foundation. “They can add to the defensive capabilities but cannot be used as primary strike weapons.”

But the US War Machine is a hungry beast, and futuristic-sounding weapons are a simple promote—even when they’re redundant, restricted in scope, and sometimes ineffective.

[Lockheed Martin]
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