Lockheed Martin claims to have overcome a major obstacle to shooting high-power laser weapons from high-speed aircraft, saying it has successfully completed 60 Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control (ABC) laser turret flight tests over the past year.

The turret uses a green, low-power laser to measure the system’s effectiveness at jet cruise speeds and at different angles off the aircraft.

Lockheed says one of the greatest obstacles to fielding a powerful airborne fibre laser weapon to shoot down enemy aircraft and missiles is maintaining a quality beam through the turbulence around the aircraft while also compensating for atmospheric distortion.

The ABC turret uses aerodynamics and flow-control technology to reduce the impact of turbulence, and then an optical compensation system based on deformable mirrors allows the beam to overcome the atmospheric distortion between out to the target aircraft or missile, the company says.

“The ABC turret is the first turret ever to demonstrate a 360° field of regard for laser weapon systems on an aircraft flying near the speed of sound. Its performance has been verified in nearly 60 flight tests conducted in 2014 and 2015 using a business jet as a low-cost flying testbed,” Lockheed says in a recent statement.


Lockheed's laser turret is being tested onboard the University of Notre Dame’s Falcon 10 Airborne Aero Optical Laboratory Transonic Aircraft.

Air Force Research Laboratory

Last month, Lockheed announced the start of production for a 60kW fibre laser for the US Army and revealed that it is even studying laser weapon “concepts” for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Its laser solution uses a "spectral beam combining" technique to combine individual fibre lasers and scale to higher power levels.

In another sign of High-Energy Laser (HEL) technology gaining momentum, the US Air Force Scienctific Advisory Board has been tasked to study the feasibility of operating directed energy weapons from an Air Force Special Operations Command AC-130J Block 60 gunship, including a solid-state slab or fibre lasers and an airborne version of the microwave or “heat ray” weapon known as the Active Denial System (ADS).

The “quick-look” study will assess the maturity of airborne HEL and ADS technology as it relates to the systems and platforms as well as obstacles to integrating that type of weapon into the battlefield, the board says. Those results will be briefed to senior service leaders and published internally in June 2016.

Lockheed said at a recent media event that the success of its ABC turret and other fibre laser developments make it possible to field an AC-130-based laser by about 2020.

ABC Laser

Air Force Research Laboratory

Source: FlightGlobal.com