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Northrop Grumman demonstrates high-power laser building block

High-power solid-state lasers could be fielded within four years if the US military funds its growing interest in directed-energy weapons, believes Northrop Grumman.

The company says it is on track to demonstrate a lethal 100kW-class solid-state laser late next year.

"With funding, we could put a 25kW laser out there in less than two years and 100kW in three to four years," says Mike McVey, vice-president for directed-energy systems for Northrop Grumman Space Technology.

A 10-20kW laser could blind sensors while a 100kW weapon would allow an airborne platform to take out radar sites and destroy vehicles, he says.

Northrop has demonstrated the first gain module for the 100kW system it is building under the Joint High Power Solid State Laser programme. The module produced more than 3.9kW and operated for 500s at 20.6% efficiency. "We will stack the modules to get a chain producing 15kW, then combine eight chains to get the full output power," says McVey. The 100kW laser will use 32 modules.

"We are moving into the manufacturing phase and out of the laboratory. We can produce the modules repeatedly," he says. "We have shown we can produce the power with very good beam quality, and handle the heat energy to run continuously."

While there is military interest in directed-energy weapons, there is little funding, McVey says, although Northrop is bidding on a US Army technology demonstration contract for a vehicle-mounted 100kW solid-state laser to counter rockets and artillery.

While there is "nothing specific", he says the US Air Force is also looking at a directed-energy weapon for an advanced gunship and would "prefer a solid-state laser".

The USAF is flight testing a Boeing chemical laser in a Lockheed Martin AC-130 gunship, but McVey says Northrop is ready to offer a solid-state laser. While a 100kW weapon would require some 600kW of electrical power, "1MW is not a problem for a modern aircraft", he says.

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