The dawn of the combat laser era might begin in 2021 when the US air force hopes to begin demonstrations of a podded electric laser system for fifth and sixth-generation fighter jets that can destroy incoming missiles, not just steer them off course.
The US air force research laboratory started gathering market information under an advanced technology demonstration program known as SHiELD, or self-protect high-energy laser demonstrator.
According to the request for information notice, the project seeks to integrate a “moderate power” electric laser into a protective pod for supersonic combat jets, including fifth-generation jets like the Lockheed Martin F-35 and F-22 as well as future fighters and bombers.
“SHiELD seeks to expand moderate power (tens of kilowatts) laser weapon operation into the supersonic regime by demonstrating system performance under transonic flight, and acquiring aero-effects data under a supersonic environment relevant to current and future tactical aircraft,” the notice states.
“Advanced laser options under investigation are those with size and weight appropriate for integration as part of a complete laser weapon system into an aerodynamic integrated pod-like structure carried by a tactical aircraft.”
Military scientists hope to validate the laser pod in a laboratory environment (technology readiness level four) by 2017 and be ready for prototype demonstration by 2021
- 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.
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.
SOURCES -Flight Global, US Air Force Research Lab