The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) awarded Lockheed Martin $26.3 million for the design, development and production of a high power fiber laser. AFRL plans to test the laser on a tactical fighter jet by 2021. The contract is part of AFRL’s Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program, and is a major step forward in the maturation of protective airborne laser systems.
Initially the lasers will be defensive and will power levels that target the sensors of enemy missiles or drones.
The main challenge is to make the lasers small and light so they do not reduce the agility of a jet.
The SHiELD program includes three subsystems:
* SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects (STRAFE), the beam control system, which will direct the laser onto the target
* Laser Pod Research & Development (LPRD), the pod mounted on the tactical fighter jet, which will power and cool the laser
* Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE), the high energy laser itself, which can be trained on adversary targets to disable them
LANCE is designed to operate in a compact environment, and as such, the Lockheed Martin team focused on developing a compact, high efficiency laser within challenging size, weight and power constraints.