Laser weapons use high power lasers to damage or destroy adversary equipment, facilities, and personnel. The technology provides major advantages for military applications due to High precision and rapid on-target effect, precise and scalable effects, Avoidance of collateral damage caused by fragmenting ammunition, Low logistics overhead and minimum costs per firing.
Laser weapons have already been employed on warships and military trucks. In 2014, US Navy’s deployed 30-kilowatt Laser Weapon System (LaWS) on USS Ponce, the first laser weapon to have attained Initial Operating Capability (IOC) by virtue of being deployed in a combat theater. The system, offers military leaders precision accuracy at cost as low as a dollar per shot. ONR showed off a video in which the LaWS system — mounted on the ship’s super structure above the bridge — disabled a small Scan Eagle-sized UAV, detonated a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and burned out the engine of a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB).
After warships US has plans to employ laser weapon on on Aircrafts and drones for missile defense. There is also increased interest in defending against Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and hypersonic weapons. Today’s fighter jets are largely limited to passive defenses against incoming missiles. Pilots can take evasive action to try and fly outside an incoming missile’s sensor arc, launch flares to distract an infrared missile seeker, or spread strips of aluminum foil, known as “chaff,” to confuse a missile guided by radar.
Enemy surface-to-air threats to manned and unmanned aircraft have become increasingly sophisticated, creating a need for rapid and effective response to this growing category of threats. High power lasers can provide a solution to this challenge, as they harness the speed and power of light to counter multiple threats. A laser can be powered by the airplane’s engine, removing the need for an onboard gun magazine and providing a theoretically unlimited number of shots. Laser energy travels at the speed of light, removing ballistics from the targeting equation and making it impossible to dodge. Laser weapon systems provide additional capability for offensive missions as well—adding precise targeting with low probability of collateral damage.
US Air Force is pursuing laser weapons systems (LWS) along with high powered electromagnetics (HPEM) to enable operations in a possible future battlespace involving a technologically advanced adversary, one with the ability to prevent or deny access to their ability to operate in a given area. However, for consideration as a weapon system on today’s air assets though, these laser weapon systems must be lighter and more compact than the state-of-the-art has produced. The laser must be powerful enough to fry an incoming missile’s electronics or cause damage to the skin or control systems, inducing aerodynamic failure.
Air Force Research Lab thinks it can put laser weapons on aircraft starting in 2021. The service will start with larger C-130 and C-17 aircraft at first, then fighter-sized aircraft such as the F-15 and F-35 once technology inevitably shrinks the size of the weapon. Having had some previous success in shooting down a missile with direct energy, the Pentagon is weighing up a number of options, including using manned aircraft such as F-15s or F-35s, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying at a higher altitude, or a space-based system. Each have their pros and cons, but Griffin suggested space would be his favoured option for boost phase interception.
The aim is to develop and deploy a laser weapon capable of operating at high altitude and with long endurance by 2023. A laser-equipped HALE drone would be operating around sites of interest, ready to shoot down ballistic missiles at the boost phase. That’s the concept at least, supported by $563m of investment across a number of research programmes.
US is not alone in working to perfecting laser weapons. Russia, UK, China and other countries also have similar programs. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov has also revealed that the Russian military has commissioned several types of laser weaponry. Borisov said that laser weapons are no longer a novelty for the Russian armed forces, with the military already in the process of commissioning and even adopting several types of laser-based weapons systems. According to Interfax, defence companies have been working on the plane-mounted laser, which if confirmed to be true, will be capable of hitting enemy satellites. Russia will “actively use the developments gained in the creation of the aircraft with laser weapons A-60” it said. Russia is planning to mount Aircraft lasers on IL-76 and MIG-35.
Dr Malcolm Davis, senior analyst in defence strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said it was certainly technically possible the Russians were developing such a system. “The US had the YAL-1 Airborne Laser on a modified Boeing 747 some years back to try and shoot down ballistic missiles, but it was scrapped for cost reasons even though the technology worked,” he said.
“Firing from high in the atmosphere eases a lot of problems associated with laser weapons because there is not much air to undermine targeting and beam quality, and expands the time available to target and attack a satellite.” Dr Davis also pointed out that developing anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons was a key focus for both China and Russia because “they recognise our dependency on space capabilities to undertake military operations”.
The UK Ministry of Defence has officially awarded a £30m contract to produce a prototype laser weapon. The aim is to see whether “directed energy” technology could benefit the armed forces, and is to culminate in a demonstration of the system in 2019. The contract was picked up by a consortium of European defence firms comprising the companies MBDA, Qinetiq, Leonardo-Finmeccanica GKN, Arke, BAE Systems and Marshall ADG.
China too is involved in the work on laser weapons. China, presented its Silent Hunter laser system at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference in the United Arab Emirates in February 2017. The system is capable of disabling car engines at a distance of one mile and has a capacity of 50-70 kilowatts. Research firm Technavio last year predicted the Chinese would surpass the U.S. in research and development spending on laser systems by 2022.
A space-based laser weapon defence capability has been the long-term goal for the US, and others, for many years. “If you deploy a space-based interceptor constellation, which is something we’ve studied in excess of 30 years, I think the effectivity is beyond doubt, it’s not technically hard to do,” Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defence research and engineering, told reporters in August 2018.
Air force’s requirement of Laser Weapons on Airborne platforms
“Laser weapons are no longer a technological problem, It’s one of integration at the service level,” according to Lockheed executives. “The technologies now exist,” said Paul Shattuck, company director for Directed Energy Systems. “They can be packaged into a size, weight, power and thermal which can be fit onto relevant tactical platforms, whether it’s a ship, whether it’s a ground vehicle or whether it’s an airborne platform. “That doesn’t mean that giant city-melting lasers are on their way. Right now, the weapons are limited to the 15-30 KW scale; going much further requires figuring out how to deal with atmospheric interference, an issue which becomes more complicated with weapons mounted on airborne systems.”
‘I believe we’ll have a directed energy pod we can put on a fighter plane very soon,’ Air Force General Hawk Carlisle has claimed at the Air Force Association Air & Space conference in a presentation on what he called Fifth-Generation Warfare, according to Ars Technica. The Marines want to move toward laser weaponry as soon as possible, According to Marine Corps Combat Development Command head Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh. The Marine Corps would first start with putting the system on its KC-130 tanker planes. Walsh says the plane is a better fit to start due to its size, weight, and power restrictions, and due to the space needed for current laser weapons.
Among its successes in 2018, Raytheon worked with the US Army Apache Programme Management Office and US Special Operations Command to hit an unmanned target on the ground with a high energy laser mounted on an Apache AH-64 attack helicopter. Following the exercises the company said it had collected data on vibration.
Mica Endsley, a chief scientist with Air force said, “We will be transitioning into airborne platforms to get them ready to go into program of record by 2023”. Endsley added that the Airforce plans to start using the technology with large transport planes until miniaturization efforts allow the weapon to fire from fighter jets. The Air Force scientist said the laser system could be used for air-to-air combat, counter drone, counter-boat, ground attack, and missile defense. She added that the energy to fire an aircraft laser cannon would come from on-board jet fuel, allowing for thousands of shots. “The real advantage is it would have a much more extended magazine. Instead of having five, six, seven missiles today, with a directed energy weapon, you could have thousands of shots with a gallon of gasoline – a gallon of jet fuel,” Endsley said.
Air Force Research Laboratory released a request for information (RFI) for a laser weapon that could be mounted on next-generation air dominance fighters by the 2030s. The Air Force is interested in three categories of lasers: low-power for illuminating, tracking, targeting, and defeating enemy sensors; moderate-power for protection to destroy incoming missiles; and high-power to offensively engage enemy aircraft and ground targets. The Air Force plans to scale-up laser weapon to 150 kW and then 200 kW. A 200 kW laser cannon will be able to destroy surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles apart from armored vehicles on the ground.
Lockheed to continue LPLD development for US Missile Defense Agency
Lockheed Martin has received a contract extension from the US Missile Defense Agency to carry on the low power laser demonstrator (LPLD) missile interceptor concept development. Valued at $25.5m, the award extension is built on the original nine-month, $9.4m contract awarded to Lockheed in October 2017 year for the development of the initial LPLD concept. The LPLD concept designed by the company puts a fibre laser system on a high-performing, high-altitude airborne platform.
The system can engage and intercept hostile missiles during their boost phase before it can deploy multiple warheads and decoys or reach top speed. During the period of the contract modification, Lockheed Martin will be responsible for maturing its LPLD concept to a critical design review phase, which will bring the design to a level that can support full-scale fabrication.
Lockheed Martin space missile defense programmes vice-president Sarah Reeves said: “We have made great progress on our LPLD design, and in this stage, we are particularly focused on maturing our technology for beam control, the ability to keep the laser beam stable and focused at operationally relevant ranges.
“LPLD is one of many breakthrough capabilities the Missile Defense Agency is pursuing to stay ahead of rapidly evolving threats, and we’re committed to bringing together Lockheed Martin’s full expertise in directed energy for this important programme.” The company upgrades and modernises its advanced technology through its laser device, beam control capabilities and platform integration, ranging from internal research and development investments in systems that include ATHENA to programmes such as LANCE for the US Air Force Research Laboratory. Continued production of the laser demonstrator will be carried out until July at the company’s manufacturing facility in Sunnyvale, California, US.
“We’re making capital investments to be ready to manufacture key high-energy laser components at full-production rates and low cost. We’re investing over $20 million in our Orlando-based optical component centre to expand the manufacturing footprint by 40%,” says Mark Stephen, leader of Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control’s strategic technology development efforts. “We intend to use this space to establish low-risk production processes that enable for us to build critical laser weapon optical components, some of which have never seen a production line at the rates our customers need.”
Lasers Directed Energy Weapon Challenges
However, writing for Arms Control Now, the Arms Control Association’s director for disarmament and threat reduction policy Kingston Reif and American University undergraduate Ryan Fedasiuk said: “Despite the many pitfalls of directed energy weapons, it is unlikely that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) will soon relinquish the chase for laser defence. But one thing is certain: the road ahead will be difficult and costly.” The pair identified three challenges: precision tracking, beam control, and power scaling.
“At the heart of MDA’s directed energy weapon problem is lowering the ratio of size, weight, and power in a laser system,” they said. “The laser designators on MDA’s active tracking systems, which belong to the Multispectral Targeting System family of sensors, have not demonstrated anything close to an extended range laser range finding capability.” They added that problem was “jitter” – vibration and other movements which lead to the laser light jumping while shinning on its target. “To be effective, a laser must bore into a single spot for several seconds until the target is destroyed,” they continued.
Valerie C. Coffey wrote in “Optics and photonics”: The biggest challenge for researchers is creating a laser that can reach high enough powers to partially destroy or defeat a target while tracking numerous objects simultaneously. In turbulent atmospheric conditions, like dust and humidity, the laser must propagate efficiently and stay accurately focused on the target. The system must compensate for the movement of the target, the motion of the platform and the distortion of the beam from weather or environmental conditions. The platform must be compact enough to fit on a vehicle or even a soldier’s shoulder, while the optics must be ruggedized to withstand shock and high irradiance. In addition to these requirements for size, weight and power (SWaP), they must be safer to use than chemical-based high-energy lasers.
Professor of Military Sciences Vadim Kozyulin points out, “the problem with laser weapons is that to function they require an enormous amount of energy. The main problem is to create a battery capable of feeding the laser cannon so that it can fire not one but several hundred shots.”
Subrata Ghoshroy of MIT’s Science, Technology and Global Security Working Group wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: Any weapon that relies upon light traveling through the atmosphere runs into the problems of dust, humidity, and fog—features which absorb and scatter the laser energy. In addition, atmospheric distortions such as turbulence can deflect a beam of light. And at the same time that the photons in a laser’s beam must overcome all of these obstacles, they must also stay focused in a tight column and keep advancing forward without diminishing in power. Meanwhile, the user of the laser weapon must account for the movement of the target, the movement of the firing platform, and any decoys, dummies, or multiple war warheads that the enemy throws up.
Moreover, lasers can only be used in certain weather conditions. They can’t, for example, be used in cloudy and humid conditions. Dmitry Litovkin, writes for RIR “For this reason the LaWS were tested in the Persian Gulf, which usually has sunny weather, and not in Alaska with its fog, rain and snow.” Sea air is full of moisture, which can weaken and distort the laser beam. Higher altitude air is clearer, but airborne lasers still require sophisticated corrective optics to stay focused on their target.
“Air applications actually can be the most challenging,” said AFRL laser guru David Hardy. “On a ship, I’m probably going to have more SWAP [Size Weight And Power] than I’m going to have on an aircraft,” Hardy said. What’s more, he went on, “aircraft tend to shake more than a ship does: A ship rolls but it doesn’t vibrate as much.” Vibration is hard on any complex machinery, but it’s especially problematic for a laser, which has to hold its beam steady enough to burn through a single spot on the target.
As Griffin said, it is very easy to see direct energy weapons being used in the battle space very soon, but their use in space is still a concept far from reality. Even though the DoD is keen to be able to intercept missiles in early flight, it’s possible the land and air options may win out for the time being.
AFRL has two major integration and demonstration programs at the moment: the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHIELD) and the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS). The former addresses the risk of integrating on LWS onto an aerial platform, while the latter demonstrates the effect of a fully integrated ground-based LWS against representative targets.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) completed a major milestone in April 2019 under the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) Program, in which the surrogate laser weapon system successfully shot down multiple air launched missiles in flight. During the series of tests at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range, the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS), acting as a ground-based test surrogate for the SHiELD system, was able to engage and shoot down several air launched missiles in flight.
The SHiELD program is developing a directed energy laser system on an aircraft pod that will serve to demonstrate self-defense of aircraft against surface-to-air (SAM) and air-to-air (AAM) missiles.The demonstration is an important step of the SHiELD system development, by validating laser effectiveness against the target missiles.
“The successful test is a big step ahead for directed energy systems and protection against adversarial threats,” says Maj. Gen. William Cooley, AFRL commander. “The ability to shoot down missiles with speed of light technology will enable air operation in denied environments. I am proud of the AFRL team advancing our Air Force’s directed energy capability.”
The SHiELD Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) is a two-phased effort to showcase the ability of a podded laser system. The program will develop and integrate a more compact, medium-power LWS onto a fighter-compatible pod to demonstrate effectiveness of an LWS in a relevant flight environment for self-defense against ground-to-air and air-to-air weapons. The purpose of the SHiELD ATD is to reduce and retire the risk of an airborne LWS in a calculated and precise fashion, meeting and resolving the technical challenges of power-scaling, beam quality, thermal management, and packaging.
In its first phase, the flight demonstration is expected to prove that targets can be tracked at sufficient range and speed to subsequently engage with a laser. In the next phase, a moderate-power laser will be incorporated to assess the performance of the LWS in an operationally relevant environment. Flight tests should occur in the FY20 timeframe.
The SHiELD system has three subsystems, the beam control system SHiELD turret research in aero effects (STRAFE) that will direct the laser onto the target and laser pod research and development (LPRD), which is a pod mounted on the tactical fighter jet to power and cool the laser. AFRL is in the early stages of a separate program to develop a smaller laser that can fit inside a pod no larger than a standard 600-gallon external fuel tank and be used to defend legacy fighter aircraft such as the F-16 or F-15 against surface-to-air missiles.
SHiELD is a pod-mounted system, meaning it will take up a station on a fighter jet typically reserved for bombs, missiles, or sensor pods. That makes it a bad fit for stealthy aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor or F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as the pod will break up the plane’s carefully minimized radar signature. That said, both planes already have a missile defense system already built in: stealth technology.
Instead, SHiELD will likely go on fighters unable to hide from their adversaries, such as the Air Force’s F-15E, F-15C, and new F-15EX Eagle fighters, F-16 Fighting Falcons, and perhaps even A-10C Warthog attack jets. Trading the ability to carry one more missile or bomb for a laser that could shoot down many incoming missiles is a no-brainer.
It also includes the high-energy laser itself, Laser Advancements for Next-Generation Compact Environments (LANCE), which can be trained on adversary targets to disable them. The LANCE contract benefits from internal research and development projects, including the advanced test high-energy asset (ATHENA) system, accelerated laser demonstration initiative (ALADIN) laser, and contract experience gained from programmes such as the US Army’s robust electric laser initiative (RELI) programme.
The AFRL has split the SHiELD program into three separate development contracts:
1 a USD39 million contract, awarded to Northrop Grumman in August 2016, for the development and production of the
SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects (STRAFE) – the beam control system which characterises the tight environment for atmospheric disturbances that could distort the laser beam, acquires and tracks incoming targets, determines an aim point for the laser, then ‘shapes’ and focuses the outgoing beam on the target;
2. a USD 90 million contract, awarded to Boeing in December 2016, for the Laser Pod Research and Development (LPRD) component – the LPRD contract provides for system integration into a pod, and integration of that pod onto an aircraft;
3. the USD b 26.3 million contract, awarded to Lockheed Martin in early November for the development of the LANCE high-energy fiber laser. LANCE, coupled with the STRAFE beam control system will be integrated into the LPRD pod, along with the systems required to operate it, which will then be integrated onto the tactical fighter testbed aircraft and subsequently trialled on a tactical fighter jet by 2021.
AFRL’s Self-Protected High-Energy Laser Demonstration (Shield) is looking at 100kw system by 2021-2022. While the LPRD pod is ostensibly responsible for thermal management of the laser, the primary power source will be from the plane. 1 HP = 745 Watts. 40% laser efficiency and a beam strength of 60 Kilowatts would need 150 KW or 201 horsepower. 40% laser efficiency and a beam strength of 150 Kilowatts would need 375 KW or 500 horsepower. Higher energy density batteries and supercapacitors will also help lower the weight and cost of laser and direct energy weapons.
Lockheed says it is building on its role developing a high-power fiber laser for the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) programme. That effort aimed to put a compact laser on a fighter aircraft by 2021, but has been delayed until 2023 due to technical problems. Nonetheless, Lockheed is optimistic about the technology and is working to push forward a separate effort. “We would look at transitioning the capabilities from SHiELD into a laser pod with improved [size, weight, and power consumption] based on the investments that we’re making,” says Stephen.
The airbone laser would also draw from the firm’s experience helping to develop the US Army’s Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High Energy Laser and the US Navy’s High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance effort. Both surface-to-air lasers are designed to shoot down drones or loitering munitions.
The company adds that its work developing optical sensors, such as the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, have given it the confidence to build a laser weapon that can accurately target a high-speed incoming missile. “The Sniper pod, it has lasers inside of it that have to be maintained onto a target during high-speed manoeuvres in flight,” Stephen says. “So the technology and the algorithms we’ve developed over the last 40 years on those types of electro-optical systems with laser designators in them are directly applicable from a pointing and jitter control standpoint.” To power the high-energy laser, a set of batteries or capacitors would be charged using the aircraft’s jet turbine.
SHiELD, paired with existing chaff and flare defenses, could very well someday be controlled by an R2D2-type artificial intelligence tasked with defending their warplanes from missile attack. This is just the beginning for aircraft lasers. Eventually, a weapon like SHiELD will go on almost all warplanes, from bombers to aerial tankers, giving them some form of active protection. As lasers become more powerful, they will become increasingly capable of engaging larger, more complex targets—like enemy aircraft. Lasers will also become useful in engaging ground targets and, some experts predict, capable of shooting down ballistic missiles shortly after launch.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded Northrop Grumman a $10.4 million contract modification under what’s called its Endurance project. Endurance grew out of DARPA’s Excalibur program, which developed a 100-megawatt system using a 21-element optical phased array that reduced the size, weight and power requirements for a laser. Now, the agency is looking to further miniaturize a system that can be pod-mounted on a manned or unmanned vehicle and use a lightweight beam director to track and engage incoming targets.
HELLADS “is designed to counter rockets, artillery, mortars; counter cruise missiles; counter air[craft]; defend against surface to air missiles,” said Michael Perry, the vice president in charge of the company’s laser programs. During the tests at White Sands, the targets could include real rockets, real mortars, and real missiles. “There’s a whole variety of targets that will be shot with this system,” Perry said.
The goal of the HELLADS program is to develop a 150 kilowatt (kW) laser weapon system that is ten times smaller and lighter than current lasers of similar power, enabling integration onto tactical aircraft to defend against and defeat ground threats. With a weight goal of less than five kilograms per kilowatt, and volume of three cubic meters for the laser system, HELLADS seeks to enable high-energy lasers to be integrated onto tactical aircraft, significantly increasing engagement ranges compared to ground-based systems. The project goal is to develop a 150 kilowatt (kW) laser weapon system with maximum weight of 750 kg (1,650 lb) and maximum envelope of 3 cubic meters (70.6 cubic feet).
According to The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), enemy threats to aircraft, both manned and unmanned, have grown increasingly sophisticated and necessitate a powerful response. HELLADS could be the answer, with lasers to counter multiple threats with the power and the speed of light. In addition to defense purposes, combat lasers could also be of great help in offensive missions, as they would allow for precise targeting while minimizing the extent of collateral damage.
“The technical hurdles were daunting, but it is extremely gratifying to have produced a new type of solid-state laser with unprecedented power and beam quality for its size,” said Rich Bagnell, DARPA program manager. “The HELLADS laser is now ready to be put to the test on the range against some of the toughest tactical threats our warfighters face.” The HELLADS program has been developing an electrically driven solid state laser at greatly reduced size and weight over lasers of similar power for tactical use. The laser was developed by DARPA performer General Atomics.
The technology behind HELLADS is a liquid laser in which the fluid lasing medium contains the active chemical species pumped for laser action, uses rare earth minerals. While the details of the design are classified, industry veterans have speculated that the liquid is actively cooled to avoid the problems inherent in solid-state HELs. DARPA wants to integrate HELLADS with UAVs, and this third-generation prototype from General Atomics is compact enough for the job. General Atomics plans to integrate this laser system with the Predator C Avenger UAV for deployment by 2017.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have already carried live-fire tests at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. A Predator drone armed with a 150-kilowatt laser is is being fired at a wide variety of airborne targets over the next 18 months. Michael D. Perry, General Atomics vice president of laser and electro-optic systems, said the laser is close to being operational. “We shot several targets,” he said. “These are not benign things.”
HELLADS Combat Lasers on War planes by 2020
GA already has developed a smaller, self-contained Generation 3 High Energy Laser and is working on an even more compact Gen 4 HEL to respond to AFSOC commander Heithold’s goal of putting such a weapon on AC-130 gunships by 2020. The possible targets for an AC-130 laser are many, Heithold said. The silent, invisible beam might be used prior to a hostage rescue mission, for example, to covertly disable motor vehicles, boats, airplanes or any other “escape mechanism” an enemy might use to move the hostages or flee from U.S. forces. The laser might also be used to disable or disrupt an enemy’s communications, he said.
General Atomics explains. “An objective unit cell laser module with integrated power and thermal management is being designed and fabricated and will demonstrate an output power of >34 kW.” He said the current design can get off five or six shots before needing to recharge, which happens in the air, over the course of several minutes. For now, the HELLADS project still has a long way to go. After the field tests, the military services will further refine and test the system before it clears operational use.
USAF officers discuss requirement of tactics, techniques and procedures for laser weapons
During the second annual Directed Energy Summit in Washington, D.C., Air Force leaders expressed their eagerness to get the capability into the field. Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command said the Air Force needs the capability to silently and quickly sabotage enemy systems without raising alarm – an option afforded by the silent and invisible lasers. “I’m a firm believer that it’s time we take directed energy in the form of high-energy lasers and move it into the battlefield on an AC-130 gunship.” Heithold said. “The next weapon is a directed energy weapon.”
AC-130 is powered by the four Rolls-Royce T56-A-15 engines each producing 3.9 megawatts of power, enough to power a 200 kW laser weapon. AC-130 is a lot bigger than the Predator as well, hence a 150 kW weapon would easily fit aboard a gunship. A lot of pragmatic challenges remain for directed energy weapons to become reality. Heithold said some of the biggest issues are the size and weight of a potential laser before it can be installed on a plane. “You get 5,000 pounds and you get that pallet position. Design it to fit in that area,” he told the conference, motioning to an area forward of the wings on a C-130.
Lt. Gen. William Etter would also like a laser, but for a different mission set than Heithold. As the commander of the 1st Air Force, it’s his job to keep the skies over America safe. That could involve using a laser to knock down an incoming missile. But using a laser to hit a missile means making sure the laser doesn’t cause collateral damage. “We’ve got an additional consideration, though, and this is pretty important to us: We’ve got to make sure that we don’t hit the other folks,” Etter said. “Because in the homeland we have civilian airliners, we have small aircraft, you can range even up to a satellite. … We have to be exactly precise.” Etter also wants a laser small enough to mount on a plane, since a directed energy-equipped F-22 or F-35 could quickly travel to whichever part of the nation was under threat from incoming missiles.
Directed energy could also fill in an emerging gap in missile defense, the ability to hit fast moving targets, he said. “We currently don’t have anything that’s going to shoot down a hypersonic vehicle,” Etter said, referencing missiles that can travel at speeds of Mach 5. “The policy has not kept up with the threat,” Etter said. “The policy’s actually more difficult than the actual technology. I need rules of engagement. Are we shooting down a [small drone], are we shooting down an aircraft?”
And there’s going to be a whole host of other things to consider too, “It’s going to take confidence building,” Lt. Gen. (ret.) Henry “Trey” Obering told Air Force Times. “It’s going to take tabletops and war-games and exercises.” “You make sure [airmen] are understanding and educated on what the potential and what the capabilities are, and they in turn begin to understand how they will fit that into their tactics, techniques and procedures,” he said. It could be something as simple as getting airmen comfortable with the fact that they’re firing a weapon that’s invisible and makes little noise.
Russia planning to mount Aircraft lasers on IL-76 and MIG-35
Russia’s Defense Ministry has revealed that the military has commissioned several new types of laser weaponry, without further elaborating on any specifics of the system. Russia is developing laser weapons alongside with the US, army general Yury Baluevsky, former Chief of the Russian General Staff, told RIA Novosti.
In this vein, prominent Russian military expert Igor Korotchenko was quoted by Sputnik as saying that the weapons based on new physical principles, including the aircraft-mounted laser which is currently being developed in Russia, will reliably ensure the national security. He further explained that a powerful laser system mounted on an Il-76, a multi-purpose four-engine turbofan strategic airlifter, will be able to counter enemy reconnaissance systems. “It’s guaranteed to disrupt optoelectronic equipment and field sensors operating in the infrared range in space, at sea, and on land,” according to him.
In late January 2017, Russian Aerospace Defense Forces Commander Viktor Bondarev confirmed that the MiG-35 strike fighter would eventually be armed with laser weaponry. He said that the development of laser weapons for the MiG-35 would begin immediately after flight testing is completed this summer.
Russia’s work on laser weapons is focused on air-defense, but reportedly also comprises an aircraft-based system. Russian weapon expert Igor Korotchenko said “Russia are also supposed to develop and create an aircraft-based laser weapon. I should say such research needs a large amount of money, but it is needed to be done in order to maintain a technological balance with the US.”
Russian Airborne Laser
Russia is currently developing a plane with a new-generation laser weapon, a source in the Russian defense and industrial sector told TASS. “Work on a new-generation airborne laser weapon is currently under way,” the source said. According to the source, the talk is about a plane called A-60 by open sources. Media outlets reported earlier that the plane was being developed as part of the Sokol-Echelon R&D work.
Russian defense firm Almaz-Antey has “completed work on the anti-satellite complex” with laser, radar, and ground elements. The laser component is said to be mounted on an unspecified, yet brand-new aircraft. The claim has not been verified independently. The weapons based on new physical principles, including the aircraft-mounted laser which is currently being developed in Russia, will reliably ensure the national security, according to Igor Korotchenko, a respected Russian military analyst. He further explained that a powerful laser system mounted on an Il-76, a multi-purpose four-engine turbofan strategic airlifter, will be able to counter enemy reconnaissance systems. It’s guaranteed to disrupt optoelectronic equipment and field sensors operating in the infrared range in space, at sea, and on land.
“It is a known fact that similar military equipment is under development in the US, however the American airborne lasers are mostly targeting foreign intercontinental ballistic missiles and their re-entry vehicles,” the expert said. “And while the Americans haven’t been very successful here, Russia’s aircraft-mounted laser has proved its ability to successfully fulfil the set tasks,” he added.
Reports suggest that Russia’s flying airborne laser laboratory first took flight in 1981, and fired against an aerial target in April 1984. However, work ceased in the early 1990s for lack of funds.
Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, says that laser weapons could also be used by ground forces to blind the optronic equipment of the enemy. “These weapons will be used, first of all, by the ground forces as blinding equipment. Lasers will blind the optical intelligence equipment and fire control sight systems as well as some command and communication systems,” he said
US Navy report also confirmed Russia’s plans to develop laser weapons, “Russia plans to develop a high-energy laser weapon with anti-satellite and cruise missile defense capability, and is working on the weaponization of its laser energy systems.”
However, the report writes that Russia faces a challenge in weaponizing lasers, which involves “combining the beam into a solid state, which is dependent on its quality as well as atmospheric compensation. These systems require a high quality of manufacturing using mirrors, lenses, and exotic laser materials like diodes and non-linear optical crystals.”
China’s laser weapons
Chinese People’s Liberation Army also introduced portable laser weapons for military use, such as the PY132A, WJG-202, and BBQ-905 laser rifles. These laser weapons are expected to be very useful in blinding slow flying UAVs or in destroying thermal imagers of enemy tanks. Knocking out enemy security cameras and rendering sensors useless are also easier now with the use of these bad boys.
A powerful militarized laser developed by a joint venture between the Chinese Academy of Physics Engineering and Jiuyuan Hi Tech Equipment Corporation was unveiled at the Africa Aerospace and Defense 2016 tradeshow in South Africa.The Low Altitude Guard II, or LAG II, is a laser weapons system capable of firing a high-power 30 kilowatt laser beam to knock small airborne targets such as UAVs and drones out of the sky at a range of up to 2.5 miles.
Even with all this power, marketing agency Poly Technologies reports that the system is compact enough to be mounted on medium-sized trucks or 6×6 armored personnel carriers. Using a eletro-optical guidance system, the weapon is capable of using directed energy as a defense against small incoming aircraft.
A Russia media has recently exposed: China’s Aviation Research Institute No. 611 is doing research for the development of J-28, its sixth-generation fighter jet. Year 2020 will be the deadline of China’s sixth generation fighter, according to report. It will carry very high powered laser directed energy weapon, enough to melt a nuclear missile launched from any planet or satellite in solar system. The report says as the United States has conducted enough survey to know the Mars, it is expected that the US will establish a nuclear missile base in 2018.
To underscore Beijing’s fixation with laser weaponry, the Hong Kong Standard reported Nov. 15 that the Chinese have developed a laser-based anti-missile, anti-satellite system. “China’s system shoots a laser beam that destroys the [guidance systems] and causes the projectile to fall harmlessly to the ground,” the paper said.
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