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
This laser makes me hungry “and finally BILL (Bacon Illuminator Laser)…”