In a decision that might transform aerial combat, the U.S. AFRL (Air Force Research Lab) has granted Lockheed Martin a contract of US$26.3 Million to develop, design, and make a high energy laser weapon that the AFRL needs to set up and examine on a strategic fighter jet by the end of 2021. The new trial weapon is fraction of the AFRL SHiELD (Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator) program assigned with designing airborne laser structures.
Flying laser weapons are not new. Investigational lasers fitted on aircraft date back to the 1980s of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, but making a sensible weapon system has proven hard. Earlier efforts have led to crooked chemical laser weapons so immense that they had to be fitted in a 747, but the growth of fiber optic solid state lasers is beginning to alter the game.
Previously this year, ground-based ATHENA system of Lockheed took down five 3.3-m (10.8-ft) wingspan drones of Outlaw by aiming its 30-kW ALADIN (Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative) laser at their stern control areas until they blazed off, sending them trembling into the desert ground. These compact lasers have modules of fiber laser where the dynamic gain medium is constructed of an optical fiber filled with a rare-earth element like ytterbium, erbium, or neodymium. The optical fibers are supple, so the laser can be millions of meters long while consuming up very tiny space.
For the SHiELD agenda, the flying laser is constructed up of the STRAFE (SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects) beam control mechanism that points the laser to the goal, the LANCE (Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments) high intensity laser, and the LPRD (Laser Pod Research & Development) mounting pod to cool and power the laser. Jointly, they are developed to make a high-efficiency and compact laser mechanism that meets the needed weight, size, and power limitations of a fighter aircraft.
“Previously this year, we gave a 60 kW huge laser to be set up on an Army ground car of the U.S.,’ claims senior fellow of laser weapon mechanisms at Lockheed Martin, Dr Rob Afzal, to the media in an interview this week.