A new class of laser weapons 10 times smaller and lighter than current lasers of similar power could protect U.S. aircraft from ground-based threats
Laser weapons small enough to fit aboard fighter jets could begin ground-based firing tests aimed at shooting down threats to U.S. military warplanes in 2014.
The 150-kilowatt lasers would represent a new class of weapons 10 times smaller and lighter than current lasers of similar power, according to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The Pentagon agency issued a special notice on Jan. 17 for General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems Incorporated to build a second laser weapon so that both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy could carry out laser tests by 2014.
Such lasers represent part of DARPA’s High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System. They would mainly aim to shoot down rockets, surface-to-air missiles or other weapons that threaten aircraft during the ground-based field testing scheduled for 2014. But the lasers could also possibly act as offensive weapons against some ground targets.
Past military testing included much larger laser weapons, such as the megawatt-class laser weapon that flew aboard a modified Boeing 747 during the cancelled Airborne Laser Test Bed program (1 megawatt is equivalent to 1,000 kilowatts). By comparison, the smaller 150-kilowatt laser could enable smaller military aircraft or even drones to carry it as a weapon.
The Navy’s interest in the 150-kilowatt laser weapon involves testing it against surface ship targets before the end of 2014. Past Navy tests have already shown how lasers can shoot down aerial drones and disable small boats. [Video: Navy Fires Laser HEL on Target Vessel]
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