For the last few years there have been heavy 10-30 kilowatt combat lasers tested on a Navy ship and an army truck about the size of an 18 wheeler. Those were vehicles chosen to carry the heavy weight of the lasers and their power systems. Now there is an $26 million air force project for a 50+ kilowatt combat laser on an F15 and another $18 million project for a high altitude anti-missile drone by 2021.
The flying combat lasers have to be far lighter. By 2021 the lasers should also have power increased to 150 kilowatts or more.
Over the last 25 years the US military has spent about $8 billion developing combat lasers but none have been put into production.
The military lasers are riding the widespread use of 10 kilowatt industrial cutting and welding lasers and the lasers for telecommunications.
Drones on Lasers can be the holy grail of missile defense
Boost phase missile defense is destroying an enemy missile during the earliest stages of its flight, while it remains within the Earth’s atmosphere. A viable boost phase defense has long been considered the “holy grail” of BMD (ballistic missile defense), as boosting missiles are much slower and easier to track than missiles during the midcourse or terminal stage, which makes them more vulnerable to interception. Boost phase defense also overcomes the challenges of discriminating between lethal warheads and debris, as the missile is largely intact at this stage and has not had the opportunity to deploy decoys. Early intercept during the boost phase also has the added benefit of causing the missile’s ordinance to fall back on the aggressor after the boosters have been disabled or destroyed.
Directed energy technology—or lasers—is the most sought-after future boost phase missile defense option.
In June 2017, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) released a solicitation demonstrating interest in the defense industry’s capability to produce a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft that can carry high energy laser system for boost phase intercept. MDA’s listing listed several requirements for this boost-phase capability including:
1. on-station altitude of greater than 63,000 ft,
2. flight endurance of greater than 36 hours,
3. flight cruise speed of less than Mach 0.45 at altitude, and
4. a payload capacity of at least 5,000 lbs and as much as 12,500 lbs.
A follow on system originally called SNLWS (surface navy laser weapon system) Increment 2 would boost the power of the lasers to 150-300 kilowatts which is enough to engage cruise missiles.
An eventual increment 3 would boost power to 500+ Kilowatts to engage cruise missiles fired directly at a ship.
The entire DOD will have a directed energy weapon roadmap in early 2018.
Fast speed and distance to hit North Korean ICBMs would likely need megawatt lasers.
Having good targeting with 300 Kilowatt lasers could allow 3-5 drones to combine laser power on a common target. Alternatively the multiple 300 kilowatt systems could be combined to reach megawatt power. This will mean having systems that are 3-4 times bigger.