Northrop aims to strike with Vesta laser weapon

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Manufacturer unveils project designed to develop technology for use by next decade

Northrop Grumman has unveiled a company-funded solid-state laser programme called Vesta, which is developing the building blocks for compact high-power laser weapons. The Vesta laser has demonstrated "high power, excellent beam quality and long run time", and is expected to shorten the time required for electric laser weapons to move from laboratory to battlefield, the company says.

Technology development is aiming at the availability, by the middle of the next decade, of solid-state laser weapons powerful and compact enough for use in tactical aircraft and ground vehicles.

In December last year, Northrop received a $57 million contract for the three-year third phase of the US Department of Defense's Joint High-Power Solid-State Laser (JHPSSL) programme, which has the goal of demonstrating a 100kW weapon suitable for roles ranging from cruise-missile defence to airborne precision strike.

The Vesta diode-pumped Nd:YAG laser produced 15kW of steady-state power and ran continuously for 1,400s in tests that Northrop says reduced risk for the JHPSSL programme by demonstrating the gain module, the key building block for future weapons. A combination of these 4kW-plus gain modules forms an amplifier chain, and the JHPSSL will use eight amplifier chains to reach its 100kW power level.

Northrop says the Vesta demonstrated an "outstanding" beam quality of 1.3 times the diffraction limit, with 1 being a perfect laser beam. A typical industrial welding laser has a beam quality of 20, the company says, with 1.5 to 2 required for a weapon-grade laser.