Everyone knows how quickly technology advances, but every now and then it makes a shocking leap like making laser weapons standard on military aircraft by 2021.
That's right. The US Air Force has set a 2021 deadline for a high-energy laser designed to shoot down other aircraft, rockets, mortars and a host of other deadly and effective functions. As if making Star Wars into a reality with laser weapons wasn't enough, the program tasked with designing the laser weapons is called SHiELD which stands for Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator.
SHiELD was launched earlier this year and was tasked with designing the high-energy laser system to be compact enough to fit with the internal cannon and missiles already equipped on fighter jets. The system uses a new technology which focuses light through a special optical fiber instead of the neodymium-doped crystals which are currently the standard in conventional solid-state lasers.
Part of what makes this new optical fiber so efficient is its ability to coil allowing more power to be packed in. Lockheed Martin laser weapons expert Robert Afzal says, "We have shown that a powerful directed energy laser is now sufficiently light-weight, low volume and reliable enough to be deployed on tactical vehicles for defensive applications on land, at sea and in the air."
This new electric-powered laser is far more powerful than the chemical laser in the Boeing YAL-1A airborne laser testbed which was eventually scrapped after 16 years of development. Afzal said in an interview, "One of the problems with the chemical laser is that first of all they’re too big and too heavy — and you have to carry the chemicals with you. With an electric laser, your platform which is driving, sailing, flying around, usually has a power system that can recharge your battery back. But in a chemical laser, once the chemicals are gone you have to go back to the depot."
Lockheed Martin recently demonstrated the power of the new laser weapon in September in ATHENA, the Advanced Test High Energy Asset, run by the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command in White Sands, New Mexico. Lockheed Martin’s chief technology officer Keoki Jackson said of the demonstration, "The tests at White Sands against aerial targets validated our lethality models and replicated the results we’ve seen against static targets at our own test range."
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