Will #USAF tests herald a deadly new era of laser warfare?

Laser weapons offer warfighters opportunities for quick and precise target engagement, flexibility and lighter and more responsive support logistics

Eva Blaylock

The test, which will send an unmistakable signal to Russia and China, is a key step towards the USAF’s goal of being able to fire lasers from aircraft on combat missions - with military chiefs hoping having aircraft and fighter jet-fired lasers in operation by the early 2020s. Eva Blaylock, spokeswoman for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), told the US-based Warrior Maven website: “Laser weapons offer warfighters opportunities for quick and precise target engagement, flexibility and lighter and more responsive support logistics. Laser weapons can be used to launch precision, light-speed attacks, and can also be scaled up or down in intensity to cause minor damage or total destruction, depending on the situation, Ms Blaylock explained.

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Scalablilty is usually achieved by merging several beams into one, Ms Blaylock said.

She added: “The type of gradual effects a 30kW laser can deliver includes the denial, degradation, disruption, and destruction of a range of targets from UAS to small boats at a range of several kilometers. 

“More powerful lasers have counter-air, counter-ground, and counter-sea applications against a host of hardened military equipment and vehicles at significant range.”

The latest test will assess the ability of a fighter-jet configured weapons pod to target and fire lasers prior to being integrated into aircraft.

Laser warfareLaser warfare could soon be a reality (Image: Northrop Grumman)

The USAF hopes to hold the first airborne tests by 2021, with work ongoing to increase the power, precision and guidance of existing laser weapon applications to boost them from 10 to 100 kilowatts.

Air Force chiefs want to equip large military aircraft, such as C-17s and C-130s, with laser weapons until technological advancements enable them to be fitted to fighters include F-15s, F-16s and F-35s.

The ARFL is developing solid-state laser weapons which rely purely upon electricity, and do not require specific chemicals, as other lasers do.

They will be able to disable or obliterate targets using enormous amounts of heat.

HELIOSLockheed Martin is helping develop the HELIOS system (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Fighter pilots are

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