US military accelerating useful combat laser testing this year for deployments 2020-2022

Four Star General Carlton Everhart, head of Air Mobility Commmand (AMC), told Air Force Times he wants to begin exploring this capability on a KC-135 refueling tanker in 2018. He took steps to get a KC-135 to the Air Force Research Laboratory by the summer of 2018 to start testing the concept.

The researchers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio will have six months to a year to experiment with the aircraft to see what is possible and what questions would need to be answered, said AMC spokesman Col. Chris Karns.

Everhart has also discussed a type of “cloaking device” that could make it harder for an enemy to detect the large refueling planes on their radars.

The Air Force has targeted arming an F-15 fighter jet with a laser by 2021, one of what could become a wider use of directed-energy weapons to protect aerial refueling tankers to military bases.

The US Air Force was $58 million short of funding to speed development of a laser weapon for the AC-130 gunship. They want to get a 60-kilowatt laser flying on an AC-130 by 2022.

The current plan called for progressive demonstration steps in moving from a four-kilowatt laser to a 30-kilowatt version and would not have an operationally useful 60-kilowatt laser fielded until 2030.

Lockheed Martin is being awarded a $150 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for Surface Navy Laser Weapon System Increment 1, High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with a surveillance system. This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $943 million.

The combat lasers will be 150-kilowatts and could get upgraded to 300 kilowatts for more range and power.

1. Up to three 60 kilowatt combat lasers. Project 3402 in the Navy budget, is known as the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System. SNLWS is an “advanced prototype laser weapon” in the 60-kilowatt-or-higher class. The Navy recently announced this laser would be installed on the guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke, but the budget provides funding to outfit not just one but three destroyers.

The laser can “dazzle and destroy” drones as well as “fast inshore attack craft” (FIAC). The 2019 budget allocates $190 million for the SNLWS. The Navy anticipates the first destroyers outfitted with the laser weapon in late of 2020.

2. ODIN, or Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy (which formerly carried the bland-sounding moniker Low Power Module). ODIN is a laser designed to blind and disrupt “Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) and other platforms that will address urgent operational needs of the Fleet.” That wording implies drones are currently being used to watch U.S. ships at sea.

Two ODIN units have apparently already been funded, and the 2019 budget provides for three more (installation costs will be covered in the 2020 budget). Each ODIN unit consists of a “Beam Director (Telescope, Optics, Fast Steering Mirrors); Lower Power Lasers (2); Sensors (Coarse Track, Fine Track, ISR Imaging); Computer Rack, Network Switches; and an Operator Laptop.” The U.S. Navy is spending $44 million in 2019 on the ODIN.

3. Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation. It’s a much larger 150-kilowatt laser to be mounted on a San Antonio-class ship in 2019. Finally, the Navy mentions the Ruggedized High Energy Laser, or RHEL, a 150-kilowatt laser that will apparently employ “different laser architectures” that will handle more powerful laser beams eventually.

4. $15 million in funding the Gun Launched Guided Projectile, also known as the Hyper Velocity Projectile Block 0, which will “double the range of the current 5-inch conventional ammunition while meeting multi-mission operational requirements for Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Anti-Air Warfare (AAW), and Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) missions.”

Each U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser and destroyer has at least one 5-inch gun. The U.S. Navy is spending $15 million on the GLGP.