The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) awarded nearly $70 million in contracts to Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems to further develop airborne anti-ballistic missile lasers.

The companies were granted the funds, following initial awards of $31.7 million in 2017, to complete their concept design review in support of the Low Power Laser Demonstrator post-preliminary design review risk reduction, the MDA wrote in its 31 August online notice. The defence manufacturers are working on competing proposals for lasers that would fly aboard an unmanned aerial vehicle and zap a ballistic missile shortly after it launches, during its boost phase.

Initial efforts have focused on establishing laser beam stability at long ranges and the ability to dwell on a single spot on a target. Under contracts granted last year, companies were to address laser power and aperture size by integrating and testing a low power laser on an UAV.

The MDA is reportedly aiming to demonstrate a 500kW laser by 2021 and a 1MW laser by 2023. It is not clear what UAV platform the laser system would fly aboard.

In 2010, the MDA destroyed a ballistic missile in a demonstration using the Airborne Laser Test Bed, a modified Boeing 747-400F aircraft with a laser aperture mounted on its nose.