General Atomics has a new third generation combat laser. The technology was originally developed under the High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS, Gen 1) program. The Gen 3 Laser employs a number of upgrades resulting in improved beam quality, increased electrical to optical efficiency, and reduced size and weight. The recently certified Gen 3 laser assembly is very compact at only 1.3 x 0.4 x 0.5 meters. The system is powered by a compact Lithium-ion battery supply designed to demonstrate a deployable architecture for tactical platforms.
The Gen 3 HEL tested is a unit cell for the Tactical Laser Weapon Module (TLWM) currently under development. Featuring a flexible, deployable architecture, the TLWM is designed for use on land, sea, and airborne platforms and will be available in four versions at the 50, 75, 150, and 300 kilowatt laser output levels.
The GDS was employed by an independent measurement team to evaluate the beam quality of the Gen 3 system over a range of operating power and run time. According to JTO’s Jack Slater, “The system produced the best beam quality from a high energy laser that we have yet measured with the GDS. We were impressed to see that the beam quality remained constant with increasing output power and run-time.”
With run time limited only by the magazine depth of the battery system, beam quality was constant throughout the entire run at greater than 30 seconds. These measurements confirm that the exceptional beam quality of this new generation of electrically-pumped lasers is maintained above the 50 kilowatt level.
Following this evaluation, the independent team will use the GDS again to conduct beam quality measurements of the GA-ASI HELLADS Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS). The HELLADS DLWS includes a 150 kilowatt class laser with integrated power and thermal management.
NBF- I believe they are saying that the 50 kilowatt laser might be one module. The 300 kilowatt laser would be six modules. The General Atomics laser testing press release talks about maintaining power over the 50 kilowatt level in the completed tests and they were moving on to 150 kw tests.
The weight of the system is dependent on its output power and the number of shots you want. General Atomics engineers say that they’ve gotten it down to just 4 kilograms per kilowatt.
The 300 kilowatt system would be 1200 kilograms. This would only have a few shots with lithium ion battery power. The navy design for a 300 kilowatt laser would have a power and heat management system that would weigh about 560 tons.
It looks like a non-functioning mockup at the trade show. Tests of the 50 kw system are probably in a bigger unit.
In three years the US military could have a prototype 300 kilowatt laser weapon. This would be ten times the power of the 30 kilowatt laser being tested on the USS Ponce. Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. of Breaking Defense reports this from a Lockheed engineer.
The Army’s High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator(HEL MD) will improve to a 60 kw system late in 2016. This is up from the current 10 kilowatt laser. Today’s technology will enable fiber lasers to scale to 300 kw. Near term improvement to the underlying technology will enable well beyond 500 kw lasers.
Solid state slab lasers (being developed by the Navy and Northrop) should be able to scale to a total power of 300 kW. This will not require any technological breakthroughs. Supporters of slab SSLs such as Maritime Laser Demonstration (MLD) believe they could eventually be scaled up further, to perhaps 600 kW. Slab SSLs are not generally viewed as easily scalable to megawatt power levels.
At 30 to 35 percent efficiency — the current cutting edge with fiber-optic lasers — 300 kw of output would require just under a megawatt of electrical power.
The Navy’s LaWs simply sticks together six commercial cutting lasers and points them all at the same target. Lockheed’s technology goes further and combines all the lasers into a single, coherent beam, which allows much sharper focus at long ranges.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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