Lockheed Martin will demonstrate an airborne laser generating tens of kilowatts of power for the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s podded electric laser concept for fifth- and sixth-generation fighter jets.
As part of AFRL’s Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD), Lockheed captured the $26 million Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE) contract last month. The effort will develop a compact, ruggedised high power laser for a tactical jet, with an event scheduled for 2021 to demonstrate a low power laser on the fighter.
Last August, Northrop won the $39 million beam control portion of SHiELD, known as Turret Research in Aero-Effects (STRAFE), while Boeing won the $90 million Laser Pod Research and Development (LPRD) contract.
Lockheed is withholding details about the airborne directed energy system. In a 7 November call with reporters, Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems at Lockheed Martin, would not disclose the laser beam’s exact power and which platform is planned for the 2021 test. Afzal mentioned previous comments from AFRL commander Gen Thomas Masiello, who in 2015 expressed interest in a laser generating tens of kilowatts of power.
Past performance shows Lockheed has demonstrated a steady increase in laser power while decreasing the size, weight and power of its systems. In 2014, the company built a 30kW fibre laser and in 2016, demonstrated a smaller package featuring a 60kW fiber laser for the US Army.
“LANCE will represent the next generation of a compact design,” Afzal says. “One of the key reasons we can do this is that the fiber laser technology is very efficient at converting a high power beam and as we make this more compact, we’re generating less heat that other laser technologies that are less efficient do.”
AFRL has stated that SHiELD would be used to attack other aircraft and missiles fired from the air and the ground. When asked whether LANCE could take down missiles in the boost phase, Afzal responded that mission requires a higher power and longer range.
“But clearly a high power laser technology would be desirable for that mission,” he says.