The Air Force Wants to Begin Testing Lasers on Gunships Next Year

Thursday, 21 September 2017 - 11:27AM
Technology
Thursday, 21 September 2017 - 11:27AM
The Air Force Wants to Begin Testing Lasers on Gunships Next Year
Image credit: Lucasfilm
Military gunships have enough guns already, but what they don't have enough of is frickin' lasers. That gross oversight may be fixed sooner than you think.

The plan is to outfit gunships with High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense Systems (HELLADS) developed by DARPA that could be used from the air to target objects on the ground. Initial testing will begin "in the next year," according to Special Operations Command Lt. Gen. Marshall Webb, "then we go airborne with shooting the laser a couple of years after that."

The experimental lasers would not turn the gunships into X-Wings blasting AT-ACT walkers on a beach, but if the Air Force could perfect the directed-energy weapons, Defense Tech reports that they could in theory disable communications towers, or stationary vehicles and aircraft. For an idea of what lasers look like in action, check out the one being developed by the Navy:



"I remain an enthusiastic supporter of doing this demo," said Lt. Gen. Webb at an Air Force Association conference this week, adding that "if you put out a questionnaire to those scientists involved in lasers, you find about half and half- half of them are skeptics, the other half are zealots." He acknowledged the challenges that they face in getting the current "fiber, solid state" laser tech to where it needs to be, but he remained optimistic that it is possible. "Can we control the beam, and can we overcome the aerodynamic, aeromechanical jitter etc.?" Webb said. "I am very enthusiastic about that."

Defense Tech also reports that this won't be the military's first laser rodeo. The Air Force and the Pentagon have reportedly been testing electric lasers against rockets and missiles out in New Mexico, and chemical oxygen iodine lasers have been installed and tested on Boeing 747-400 Freighters, but they were too big and too expensive. The kilo wattage of the lasers keeps increasing, but there are budgetary restrictions to deal with.

Gunships with lasers sound cool, but Lt. Gen. Webb may be getting ahead of himself with the enthusiasm. The reason half of the people taking his hypothetical questionnaire are probably skeptical because lasers are still expensive and experimental. We'll have to wait and see how those initial pew-pew tests go next year before we jump on the laser bandwagon.
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