US Fighter Jets Firing Lasers Is No Longer Science Fiction

Thursday, 09 November 2017 - 11:30AM
Thursday, 09 November 2017 - 11:30AM
US Fighter Jets Firing Lasers Is No Longer Science Fiction
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Image credit: Air Force Research Lab
The future of the Air Force is looking more and more like Star Wars

The United States Air Force Research Lab is investing heavily in the future of this country's defense systems, and that future will apparently involve an increase in airborne laser weaponry.

The organization recently awarded Maryland-based aerospace defense company Lockheed Martin a $26.3 million contract to design and produce high-energy lasers. The plan is to have the lasers installed and tested on tactical fighter jets, with the first tests tentatively scheduled for 2021, which is 37 months away.

New Atlas reports that the contract was awarded as a part of a AFRL program called Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator, which use the loose-fitting acronym "SHiELD" for short.

"Lockheed Martin continues to rapidly advance laser weapon systems and the technologies that make them possible," senior fellow of laser weapon systems Rob Afzal said 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."

Lockheed Martin reportedly shot down five Outlaw drones this past year in a live-fire demonstration of its ATHENA ground laser system, which uses a 30kW ALADIN laser (Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative).

Afzal says that they also recently delivered a 60kW laser for one of the Army's ground vehicles, but added that developing a laser system that will fit into the smaller airborne vehicles will be a "completely new and different challenge... It's exciting to see this technology mature enough to embed in an aircraft. 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."

AFRL has had its eyes set on airborne laser tech for a while now, and has awarded numerous contracts worth hundreds of millions to Boeing as a part of a 25-year partnership.

No one is saying that the Air Force is secretly building a squadron of starfighters, but if I were getting ready for a war amongst the stars, lasers would be a big piece of the puzzle.