The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) has given Lockheed Martin a $26.3 million contract to develop a high-energy laser system that will be compact enough to install on fighter aircraft. The Air Force has tested a similar airborne laser system in the past, but it was installed on a modified Boeing 747 test aircraft (YAL-1).
The laser system is part of AFRL's Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program, and will consist of three separate components. First, there is a beam control system, which takes care of targeting the laser. The second component is the actual laser pod, which will be mounted to the aircraft. This self-contained pod will be responsible for both powering and cooling the laser. The final component is the actual laser -- Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE).
Such weaponry wouldn't be used to completely obliterate a target in one single shot, but would instead be used to disable it by damaging critical components. As we've seen with previous high-power laser tests, like the Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA), these devices can do some serious damage. ATHENA is ground-based 30-kilowatt laser system that was used back in 2015 to critically cripple a running pickup truck from over a mile away.
The AFRL hopes to achieve the same time of success in the air. "It's a completely new and different challenge to get a laser system into a smaller, airborne test platform. It's exciting to see this technology mature enough to embed in an aircraft," said Dr. Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems at Lockheed Martin. "The development of high power laser systems like SHiELD show laser weapon system technologies are becoming real. The technologies are ready to be produced, tested and deployed on aircraft, ground vehicles and ships."
Now that the U.S. Military is deploying laser weapons on land, at sea and in the air, is too much to ask for a few sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads?