Boeing believes that successful proof-of-concept testing could lead to US military testing of a helicopter-borne airborne tactical laser (ATL) within two years.

The optimism is fuelled by preliminary testing of a new high-energy chemical laser designed specifically for directed-energy tactical weapons applications. The device is derived from chemical-oxygen iodine laser (COIL) technology being developed by TRW for the US Air Force airborne laser (ABL) programme.

While the ABL would fill a converted Boeing 747, the ATL could be mounted in an aircraft the size of the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, or in tracked vehicles. Boeing says COIL technology permits development of highly mobile, self-contained, ground-to-air, air-to-ground and air-to-air weaponry with ranges of up to 20km (11nm).

A study has considered putting a 300kW laser and optical sensor suite in a V-22. The ATL could attack anti-ship and cruise missiles, while a ground-based variant could be used to counter short-range tactical rockets.

Additional missions could include protection for littoral operations, armed escort of other rotorcraft, as well as special operations sorties.

A proof-of-concept demonstration laser was recently operated routinely at about 20kW. Showing reliability and repeatability, the tests explored performance over a wide range of operating conditions, says Boeing.

The ATL would have an unrefuelled capacity of about 100 shots, and the ground-based air defence weapon would be electrically powered and capable of taking one shot every 2min 30s.

Source: Flight International