US 'directed energy roadmap' close to being unveiled despite mid-year budget cuts

Laser weapons designed to shoot down missiles, artillery rounds and other threats are to face a series of course-setting events over the next few weeks, while a Pentagon-level team is also close to unveiling a "directed energy roadmap" to steer the development of the US military's future high-power laser and microwave weapons.

Having fired its chemical laser for the first time on 12 November, the 1MW Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser (ABL) is being prepared for an imminent round of flight tests of the beam control system. The Joint High Power Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) project is also set to demonstrate three different 25kW systems next month, a first step towards the development of a 100kW solid state weapon. Finally, General Dynamics' Atomics division is seeking bidders to perform systems integration studies for a lightweight, 150kW weapon called the High-Energy, Liquid Laser Area Defense System (Hellads).

The ABL's successful "first light" event places it at the front of the pack, despite suffering a new round of Congressionally-mandated budget cuts in mid-year. The US Missile Defense Agency has been forced to reshape the ABL's development plan. It is no longer pursuing a missile shoot-down as its next major milestone. Instead, Boeing is to demonstrate feasible designs within two years for a six-module laser - down from 14 - and a flightworthy system to direct the beam.

The first light test fired a combined beam produced by six chemical lasers, although the experiment was staged at less than full power amid concerns about handling the flow of chlorine into the laser modules. Flight tests will begin soon on the beam control and fire control equipment on board a modified Boeing 747 before the laser and aiming equipment are installed late next year.

The JHPSSL programme will next month conclude a two-year demonstration using solid-state lasers proposed by the Lawrence Livermore national laboratory, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, while General Atomics is in the first phase of developing Hellads.

A diode-pumped liquid laser intended to shoot down aerial threats including cruise missiles and unmanned air vehicles, Hellads will in its next two phases advance to produce a ground-based demonstrator.



Source: Flight International