US Military is close to an operational combat laser on the AC-130J gunship

The combat laser for the AC-130J gunship is “rapidly moving” from the concept to the practice according to General Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. Webb recently visited MIT Lincoln Labs to view its advancements, and saw Naval Sea Systems Command Dahlgren’s latest efforts to network all of the various components within the aircraft.

A proof of concept for a high-energy laser on a gunship will help pave the path for AFSOC to pursue directed energy weapons on other aircraft.

Over the next year, the command plans to make major strides in the development of the technology, Webb said.

It will first conduct vibration tests, he said. In the fiscal year 2014 office of the director of operational test and evaluation annual report, J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester at the time, found that the AC-130J was having issues integrating its precision strike package because the gunship was generating more vibration than previous aircraft. That created the risk of fratricide, Gilmore noted. While the issue was resolved years ago, Webb said he would keep a close eye on any such reoccurrence with the laser integration.

The next step will be to construct a special window — which will be placed where the gunship’s 30mm gun port currently resides — from which the laser beam will shoot.

Once those tests have been completed, the command plans to fly the laser on the gunship, he said.

Webb added that while the technology is being designed for an offensive capability, it could also be used for defensive missions. Defensive capabilities would “absolutely” be an added capability for the command.

In the fiscal year 2017 DOD budget request, the Defense Department asked for $674.3 million for directed energy weapons. Over the next five years it will allocate $3.4 billion across the board.

The Pentagon is currently in the process of developing a directed energy weapon roadmap.

AC130J will have its 105mm gun, 30 mm gun and a combat laser