The Air Force, however, is focused on lasers for its fighters. That’s a tighter fit than gunships or bombers, so the Air Force Research Laboratory has a relatively cautious three-phase plan, AFRL commander Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello said at the conference:
* A defensive system with “tens of kilowatts” of power called SHIELD, the Self-protected HIgh-Energy Laser Demonstration. It will be demonstrated circa 2020.
* A longer-range defensive system with 100 kilowatts of power, to be demonstrated in 2022.
* A 300-kilowatt offensive system capable of destroying enemy aircraft and ground targets at long range.
All these systems will be weapons pods or other external add-ons to existing aircraft, not “fully integrated” inside the airframe like a gun or radar, Masiello cautioned. That means radar-evading aircraft like the F-35 or F-22 couldn’t use them without sacrificing stealth. “We’re talking decades to have some sort of a 300-kw laser possibly integrated into a fighter,” he said.
1. First burn out enemy sensors and communications and vulnerable systems
In the near term to develop and field the next generation of laser defenses that will burn out, not just blind, sensors on SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] and air-to-air-missiles
SHIELD demo will also look at engaging “soft” ground targets on behalf of Lt. Gen. Heithold and Air Force Special Operations Command. “Soft” wasn’t clearly defined, but it probably means sensors, communications equipment, and other delicate but high-value systems.
2. Within two years place a combat laser on a AC-130 gunship
After SHIELD, though, it seems likely the fighter laser and the gunship laser will diverge, since the AC-130 has so much more space, weight, and power available. Special Operations is also famous for getting new technology into the field faster than the regular military, albeit in small quantities.
On an AC-130, “it is relatively easy to give up 5-10,000 pounds of weight to this,” Hehithold said. A gunship with a high-energy laser is just “a couple of years out,” he said.
While the 105 millimeter cannon on his AC-130 gunships today gives plenty of killing power. Combat lasers are pinpoint-precise and capable of dialing energy up or down to be more or less destructive as needed. Combat lasers keep firing so long as their are generators and fuel.
If the heat dissipation issues are solved, a combat laser could fire multiple shots per second for possibly hours or days. It could be days for a Navy ship with a nuclear power generator.
3. Add laser weapons pods to non-stealth aircraft
All these systems will be weapons pods or other external add-ons to existing aircraft, not “fully integrated” inside the airframe like a gun or radar
4. Integrate lasers into stealth aircraft
Radar-evading aircraft like the F-35 or F-22 couldn’t use laser weapon pods without sacrificing stealth. It will likely be decades to integrate a 300-kw laser possibly integrated into a stealthy fighter
SOURCE – Breaking Defense