US Air Force says it is fitting fighter jet with powerful laser beam weapon

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 2:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 10:01pm

The US Air Force will this summer begin testing a laser that will be mounted on an F-15 warplane, an official said Monday.

The Pentagon last year awarded a $26 million contract to Lockheed Martin for a laser programme called SHiELD (Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator.)

The idea is to put a powerful laser system on aircraft with an output of about 50 kilowatts to test their ability to shoot down drones or cruise missiles.

“We have got tests starting this summer and the flight tests next summer,” Jeff Stanley, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology and engineering, told reporters.

“There are still some technical challenges that we have to overcome, mainly size, weight, power.”

Military laser beams are invisible to the naked eye.

By focusing a beam on a target, the technology rapidly heats it up inside, causing it to crash or explode.

“Lockheed Martin continues to rapidly advance laser weapon systems and the technologies that make them possible,” said Dr Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems at Lockheed Martin, when the contract was awarded last year.

“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.”

A larger and more powerful 60kW-class laser was delivered by Lockheed Martin to the US Army to be mounted on a ground vehicle in 2017, Afzal said at the time.

It was a “new and different challenge” to fit a laser system to an aircraft, he said.

“The development of high power laser systems like SHiELD show laser weapon system technologies are becoming real,” said Afzal. “The technologies are ready to be produced, tested and deployed on aircraft, ground vehicles and ships.”