Lasers on fighter jets by 2020, the USAF and Northrop Grumman get cosy

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

  • New threats, such as drone swarms and new hypersonic planes and missile systems, are increasingly testing America’s defensive capabilities, as a consequence the US Military are now pushing the development of laser and directed energy weapons to counter these new threats hard


 

With new threats such as drone swarms and new hypersonic weapons platforms on the horizon the Pentagon has recently had to rethink its defensive strategy. And one of the biggest winners are lasers and directed energy weapons. This week, following hot on the heels of the Pentagon’s announcement that they were going to begin outfitting vehicles and Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) with lasers, Northrop Grumman announced that it will help the US Air Force (USAF) to develop the control system for a new defensive laser weapon which will be installed on the USAF’s existing and future aircraft after its been successfully tested in 2019.

The contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) will see the company develop and build what’s known as a “beam control system” for a laser weapon demonstrator that AFRL is developing under its Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) program.

 

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“Our Northrop Grumman-led team is integrating an innovative beam director with proven beam control technologies to help the Air Force define and successfully demonstrate a laser weapon capability for current and next generation aircraft,” said W. Mark Skinner, vice president, directed energy, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

While there aren’t many details yet it looks like the new system will be housed in a pod slung beneath the airframe of the aircraft (which could arguably ruin the stealth profile of the plane) and be small enough to be installed on fighter aircraft like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightening, as well as the US’ expanding drone fleets where it will be used as a defensive weapon to target hostile incoming missiles, drones and enemy warplanes.

The new system will be an active focus device, which means that not only will it be expected to acquire and tracks targets but that it’ll also be expected to monitor the air conditions along the path of the laser beam and alter the focus to counteract any disturbances, so that it strikes the target for maximum effect.

When developed, it’s likely that the new system will be integrated with the laser, power source, and cooling systems of the fighter jets laser weapons systems. It’s intended that the completed weapon will be tested in 2019 using a supersonic tactical weapon as an aerial test platform.

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