WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- Laser weapons were once relegated to science fiction movies but soon they’ll come of age
A press briefing in the Netherlands earlier this week for the F-35 has restarted the rumour mill that the F-35 will be one of the first US military platforms to feature laser based weapons technology, and that, as I reported a while ago, it could happen as soon as 2020.
Along with rail guns, over the past few years the US and its allies have allocated hundreds of millions of dollars for directed energy weapon research and development, and it’s been clear for a couple of years now, especially with the emergence of new drone threats and “unstoppable” intelligent hypersonic missiles and “carrier killer” systems from the likes of China and Russia, that the USAF had the intention all along to one day strap lasers onto pretty much everything it can lay its hands on, from forward operating bases and Stryker armoured vehicles, to aircraft, drones and destroyers like the 600ft USN Zumwalt. And they aren’t alone, the UK also recently announced its interest in developing its own directed energy based defence system, similar to Phalanx, for its warships.
Last year, for example, Lockheed Martin tested out several new laser systems, and recently they used a system called ATHENA to blow several drones out of the sky, and late last year they, and General Atomics, announced that direct energy weapons were “ready for prime time”.
“We’re looking at concepts for the integration of a laser weapon onto the F-35. We’re also looking at the utility and doing models and calculations so you would understand the utility of a leaser weapon system in the F-35.”
Meanwhile General Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, said recently that the USAF is continuing efforts to field directed energy weapons:
“I think we’re on the cusp of actually being able to field a true laser weapon within the next five to six years. We’ve got an activity that’s going forward, to put a laser on a fighter aircraft, not to blow up scud missiles or to win in a dogfight, but as an air defence.”
So while rumours and speculation are rife about the size and timing of these new systems one thing we know for sure is that it’s a matter of when and not if these systems emerge onto the battlefield.