Star Wars Era to come: US Air Force to employ laser cannons on jets by 2030

Nov 22 2013 - 10 Comments
By Jacek Siminski

According to the recently published RFI (Request for Information), the ARFL (Air Force Research Laboratory) is looking forward to development of the laser weapons for next generation fighter jets.

Even if this is an Air Force initiative, it is possible that the Navy and US Army will run similar independent research programs.

The U.S. Air Force plans to employ laser based weapons by 2030.

Based on requirements weapon elements will have to be ready for laboratory test by October 2014, while they must reach readiness for test on a plane and in simulated operational environment by 2022.

Three new laser devices are to be created: small power marking laser, that would act as a marker and as a blinding weapon against the optical sensors of the enemy planes; medium power laser that is to be used against air-2-air missiles; and a high power device to act as an offensive weapon.

The weapon is to be operable up to 65,000 feet of altitude and within a speed envelope of Mach 0.6 – 2.5.

Northrop Grumman is developing a solid state laser for the U.S. Navy, Lockheed Martin is on a 30-month contract to develop a prototype turret in an aircraft for the Aero-Adaptive/Aero-Optic Beam Control (ABC) system, while Boeing works on ground forces solutions, including HEL MD cannon that is to be vehicle mounted. Some solutions have been tested already, e.g.  USS Ponce self-defense system against small vessels.

It must be remembered though, that the laser program is not going to be the first USAF experience with this kind of weapon, since the U.S. Air Force already used ABL on a 747.

That laser was anti-tactical missile weapon, based on Chemical Oxygen Iodine laser, developed within a Boeing program.

Cancellation of that program does not mean nothing has survived. NOTAMs issued since the YAL-1 was retired prove that airborne laser testing has not ceased.

ABL used a laser range finder, tracking laser (TILL – Track Illuminator Laser) and finally BILL (Bacon Illuminator Laser) and it was after that when the target was finally destroyed by the main weapon.

USAF tested a chemical-laser weapon using Lockheed C-130H back in 2009.

The laser weapon that is to be developed will probably be employed firstly on the F/A-XX aircraft, that is to constitute a replacement for the Super Hornet.

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist

Top image credit: ARFL

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  • BigLord

    “BILL”? Really? xD

  • StanSki

    As an American I’m sick and tired of seeing my tax dollars go to waste. Why on God’s green Earth do the three forces have to have separate programs for the same thing costing billions of dollars to be wasted when one will do? It disgusts me. When one gets it figured out, the rest can set it up for their own use. Enough is enough.

  • http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/FlightDreamz/ Kevin

    Wasn’t there a proposal put a laser weapon in the space used by the F-35B for it’s lift fan,and link it to the driveshaft of the F135 engine to power the laser?
    And there’s the idea of putting a laser weapon in one of bay’s of the B-1B bomber see http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2013-01/pentagon-plans-test-more-airborne-laser-weapons-soon-2014

  • Keith Jones

    I remember when the F 15 was in development Popular Mech or Sci said it might have laser guns pending a breakthrough. While that was wishful speculation Anti AAM and air to ground lasers already exist.

  • Myron Elite

    Idea and technology stolen from 10 year old Type 99 laser dazzler defense system.

  • Ktak

    “BILL (Bacon Illuminator Laser)”
    I approve. After all, we all know that everything is better with bacon.

  • Ed

    With all those billions spent I hope you guys at least get a commercially
    available Bacon Illuminator out of it.

  • Roland Lawrence

    F/A XX programme? Whats the point when the F35 is going to be SOOO AMAZING that its future proof till 2050! Thats what the brochure says anyway. Its going to be just another trillion dollar sinkhole. Money would be better spent elsewhere.

  • StellarBlue1

    IF the folks out at Groom Lake would come across with the Anti-Gravity/Gravitic Drive aircraft we have, the U.S. Forces could have instant superiority. These various vehicles have been on operational status for over 30 years now. Why we insist on using burning gases to propel our aircraft, rockets and everything else baffles me. We Americans have spent the money on the R and D. We deserve to have the benefit of their use. Don’t ya think?

  • That Guy

    PEW! PEW! PEW!