Air Force Calling for Lasers on Aircraft by 2023
by Brett Smith, Red Orbit Conspiracy theorists and military nerds alike have been talking about the possibility of the US using lasers in combat, and it might be coming. According to reports, the Air Force wants to equip some planes with laser cannons by the first part of the next decade. (Geek boner.) Last week, DARPA announced it would begin a series of field tests for its High-Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS). The field tests are expected to replicate using the laser cannon against rockets, mortars, vehicles, and surface-to-air missiles. “The technical hurdles were daunting, but it is extremely gratifying to have produced a new type of solid-state laser with unprecedented power and beam quality for its size,” Rich Bagnell, DARPA program manager, said in a press release. “The HELLADS laser is now ready to be put to the test on the range against some of the toughest tactical threats our warfighters face.” The DARPA trials are only ground-based for now, but if they are successful – the technology will be turned over to the Air Force and other branches “for further refinement, testing, or transition to operational use.” Using a laser in combat Mica Endsley, a chief scientist with the Air Force, recently told Military.com that researchers are currently working on a guidance-and-focus system that allows the weapon to track a particular target. “We’re working on maturing a lot of those kinds of technologies,” Endsley said. “We will be transitioning into airborne platforms to get them ready to go into a program of record by 2023.” Endsley added that the Air Force plans to start using the technology with large transport planes until the miniaturization efforts allow the weapon to fire from fighter jets. The Air Force scientist said the laser system could be used for air-to-air combat, counter drone, counter-boat, ground attack, and missile defense. “The application will be things like being able to defeat an incoming missile for example, so that as opposed to a kinetic kill that would blow up that weapon the laser will basically melt through the metal and electronics using these non-kinetic techniques,” Endsley said. She added that the energy to fire an aircraft laser cannon would come from on-board jet fuel, allowing for thousands of shots. “The real advantage is it would have a much more extended magazine. Today’s have five, six, seven missiles. With a directed energy weapon you could have thousands of shots with a gallon of gasoline – a gallon of jet fuel,” Endsley said.