Smoke On Go

USAF stealth fighter jets set to have laser weapons systems by 2025

Lockheed Martin is working to fit a directed energy system on US Air Force stealth fighter jets by 2025.

“We’re committing to putting a laser pod equipped with a high-energy laser in the air within five years,” Mark Stephen, business development lead for strategic technology development at Lockheed Martin’s missiles and fire control division.

The SHiEld programme

The company is a core member of an industry team partnering for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator, or SHiELD, programme, Stephen said during a virtual media roundtable, reports National Defense magazine. 

AFRL is developing a directed energy system on an aircraft pod that will demonstrate self-defense against surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles, the organisation said in a press release.

The effort is set to meet requirements for a tactical airborne laser weapon programme of record in the mid-2020s, Stephen said.

Improved protection for all US forces

Lockheed Martin has partnered with the Air Force, Navy and Army to develop other directed energy capabilities. These systems will defend American forces against threats such as rockets, small drones and small attack boats, said Robb Mansfield, senior manager of business development for laser and sensor systems within Lockheed Martin’s integrated warfare system and sensors business.

“The beam director is the optical system that puts the high-energy light on target and keeps it there with enough precision to defeat the threat,” he said. “We spent several years developing producible, low [size, weight and power] and low-cost tactical beam directors in house.”

The technology will first be demonstrated on an Army application, the Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High Energy Laser, he noted.

“This is a 300-kilowatt class laser weapon system, which mounts on the ground vehicle to defeat drones, rockets, artillery and mortars,” Mansfield said. The demonstration is expected to take place by late 2021.

A dedicated testing lab

The company has also established a new directed energy system integration lab in Orlando, Florida, to test high-energy lasers and beam directors as it integrates them into pods, Stephen said.

“By 2021, this lab will be certified to test high-energy laser outfits up to 50 kilowatts and will allow firing of 150-kilowatt class lasers by 2024,” Stephen noted.

To build and manufacture the systems, the company is investing more than $20 million into its Orlando-based optical components center.

“We intend to use this space to establish low-risk production processes that enable us to build critical laser weapon optical components, some of which have never seen a production line at the rates our customers need,” Stephen said. 

Source: Defence Web Magazine