US Air Force to test laser system this summer

Some tests will be conducted for United States Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program this coming summer. The said program seeks to develop a laser weapon system that will be mounted on a fighter aircraft.

“We have got tests starting this summer and the flight tests next summer,” said deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology and engineering Jeff Stanley, as quoted by Agence France-Presse.

“There are still some technical challenges that we have to overcome, mainly size, weight, power,” he added.

AFRL awarded Lockheed Martin last year with a $26.3 million contract for the design, development and production of a high power fiber laser as part of SHiELD program.

“We have demonstrated our ability to use directed energy to counter threats from the ground, and look forward to future tests from the air as part of the SHiELD system,” said Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems at Lockheed Martin in November 2017. “Lockheed Martin continues to rapidly advance laser weapon systems and the technologies that make them possible.”

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.

“Earlier [2017], we delivered a 60 kW-class laser to be installed on a U.S. Army ground vehicle. It’s a completely new and different challenge to get a laser system into a smaller, airborne test platform. It’s exciting to see this technology mature enough to embed in an aircraft,” said Afzal. “The development of high power laser systems like SHiELD show laser weapon system technologies are becoming real. The technologies are ready to be produced, tested and deployed on aircraft, ground vehicles and ships.”