Air Force Special Operations Command plans to install and test combat lasers on AC-130 gunships within a year. General Atomics and other companies have been spending their own research and development (IRAD) money on the capability.
AFSOC hasn’t “decided where the laser would go.” The tests will help determine that, as well as which mix of weapons is most effective. His predecessor, Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, said the laser would probably go on the left side of the plane.
Why does AFSOC want a laser on the gunship? Heithold put it clearly: “The reason that I want it on an AC-130 is, right now, when an AC-130 starts firing kinetic weaponry, everybody knows you’re there. What I want on the airplane is to be able to silently disable something.”
The plan is to install a relatively low-kilowatt laser, do a “proof of concept and go from there,” Webb said, increasing power laser weapon after it’s proven accurate and effective in testing.
Last year it was expected that the first airborne tests are expected to take place by 2021. The new plan accelerates airborne tests by 3-4 years.
Much of the needed development involves engineering the size weight and power trades on an aircraft needed to accommodate an on-board laser weapon. Developing a mobile power-source small enough to integrate onto a fast-moving fighter jet remains a challenge for laser technology.
The Air Force plans to begin firing laser weapons from larger platforms such as C-17s and C-130s until the technological miniaturization efforts can configure the weapon to fire from fighter jets such as an F-15, F-16 or F-35.
Instead of flying with six or seven missiles on an aircraft, a directed energy weapons system could fire thousands of shots using a single gallon of jet fuel
SOURCES- Breaking Defense, Defense One