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The Military United States

Lockheed Martin To Build High-Energy Airborne Laser For Fighter Planes (newatlas.com) 80

Slashdot reader Big Hairy Ian quotes New Atlas: In a move that could revolutionize aerial combat, the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) has awarded Lockheed Martin a US$26.3 million contract to design, develop, and produce a high-power laser weapon that the AFRL wants to install and test on a tactical fighter jet by 2021. The new test weapon is part of the AFRL Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program tasked with developing airborne laser systems.

Airborne laser weapons are nothing new. Experimental lasers mounted on aircraft date back to the US Strategic Defense Initiative of the 1980s, but producing a practical weapon system has proven difficult. Previous attempts have resulted in dodgy chemical laser weapons so bulky that they had to be mounted in a 747, but the development of solid state fiber optic lasers is starting to change the game. Earlier this year, Lockheed's ground-based ATHENA system shot down five 10.8-ft (3.3-m) wingspan Outlaw drones by focusing its 30-kW Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative (ALADIN) laser at their stern control surfaces until they burned off, sending them crashing into the desert floor.

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Lockheed Martin To Build High-Energy Airborne Laser For Fighter Planes

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  • by hazardPPP ( 4914555 ) on Sunday November 12, 2017 @11:03AM (#55535455)
    ...will it include sharks?
  • You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have planes with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads!
  • So the pilot has to fly steady, thus becoming a target for return fire, until the control surfaces burn off. The target has to be kind and stay steady so the laser can stay generally in one place.

    For space battles, the laser weapon is a decent plot device. If you ignore the energy requirements and mass of equipment, the laser solves issues with mass for projectiles and momentum. But in real life we can't ignore energy requirements, the large mass of the unit, and the limited energy density delivered.

    • The laser beam would presumably pass through some kind of optical turret, which can track a moving target. That's the easy part, leaving the energy and weight requirements.
  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Sunday November 12, 2017 @11:53AM (#55535635)

    So the same people who brought us the F-35, Trailer Queen of Battle, are now getting even more billions of taxpayer dollars to build a fighter-borne laser?

    Unless it can shoot down the enemy from inside a repair facility, I don't see much hope for this project.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Lockheed made the SR-71, U-2, F-117, P-38, C-69 and C-130. All were innovative aircraft that were considered excellent at what they did. They also made the P-80, F-104, P-80, C-141 and C-5 and the L-1011 which were all around good aircraft. Lockheed knows how to make aircraft.

      While Lockheed certainly shoulders blame for the turd that is the F-35, the biggest cause is the design by committee approach trying to service the needs of all the service branches (Air Force, Marines, Navy) as well as the internati

      • I think it was financially sensible to decide to build a single fighter bomber for air force and for aircraft carriers. France, Russia, and China have developed carrier versions of their fighter jets with minimal modifications. What ruined the JSF project was the requirement that the same air-frame should be used in a VTOL aircraft. The result of the VTOL requirement was that the F-35A and F-35C ended up being significantly compromised and ended up with aerodynamics of a flying soap bar.

      • F-104 was a fair weather airplane. Nice to fly in California, not so nice in Germany.

      • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )

        Lockheed made the SR-71, U-2, F-117, P-38, C-69 and C-130. All were innovative aircraft that were considered excellent at what they did.

        I'm thinking Lockheed is a different company now than what it was back then, it is now LockMart. Also the country as a whole is different, much less manufacturing industrial base. However, the concept of having a single all-in-one airplane probably not practical. Astronaut Michael Collins wrote about the F111 with car analogy a vehicle that dad can commute to work, mom use it taking the kids to school and go shopping, same car can also be used as a cement truck, and race the Daytona 500 on the weekends. Go

    • Ha! "...from inside a repair facility". You kiiill me.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So..... They couldn't build one that could shoot down an ICBM in its boost phase the size of a 747 but they think they can build ones 15 times smaller that can shoot much smaller targets? I realize that they probably intend much shorter engagement distances but I don't think anyone's demonstrated an effective ground based laser weapons system yet let alone an airborne one one. Most of the ones I've seen are only good at melting gas tanks on stationary/slow moving vehicles at about a mile. It might be goo

    • According to TFA, today's hallucination appears to have been triggered by the development of 'solid state fiber optic lasers'. Sounded like buzzword bingo but they are really a thing:

      http://www.laserfocusworld.com... [laserfocusworld.com]

      (Nice review).

      Now, whether or not it can be appropriately weaponized (by Lockeed of all things) is another question. But as been pointed out, $26 million will probably just get some cute CGI cartoons of laser battles which will likely look suspiciously like something out of a Star Wars trailer

    • I think its more like the definition of welfare...

      Got to make sure all of those bureaucrats at AFRL with outdated skills can justify their ridiculous over compensation.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      That 747 project was started a long time ago. Technology has advanced.

      The US army has a vehicle mounted laser system that can shoot down artillery shells in flight. And that's 15 years old or so too.

  • Simple defence against lasers - mirrors.
    • would not work since it would be a nightmare to make a mirror that does not reflect RADAR and won't get dusty about 5 seconds after it leaves the hanger.

      plus even if you reflected 95% of the energy that 5% would add up quickly (plus all it would take is to include a MASS DRIVER in with the battery to ruin the mirror)

  • Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD)

    Can we stop with the dumb-ass acronyms now. Its like the people coming up with these names have the mentality of a 6 year old, and the names are designed to sell to those with the thought process of a four year old.

    I'm not sure what is more disappointing: The fact that there are people who are paid to try this kind of marketing, or the fact that it works.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Lockheed Martin is the company that is building the F35.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Means they are good at extracting maximum money fro taxpayers whilst not delivering anything good.

      Perfect MIC contractor.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You yanks are fucked.

  • What is the outcome of that photonic energy if the beam misses? What are the technical issues/dangers of such a situation? Could a man out standing in his field suddenly be vivisected by an errant beam? What if the streams cross, dammit?!!

  • Given how much havoc they raise on pilots [arstechnica.com], why not just mount one on a swivel to shoot in the eyes of the enemy? Or just keep one in the cockpit for hand-held pointing. Way cheaper, too.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because blinding enemy combatants is against the rules of war, whereas burning their plane so they fall out of the sky isnâ(TM)t.

      War is a gentlemanâ(TM)s game, you know.

  • I can easily see the potential utility of airborne laser systems powerful enough and small enough to be viable on fighter and drone platforms. But I didn't think we were quite there yet. It was only a year or two ago when I saw video footage of an experimental airborne laser disabling light truck targets by burning through the hood and damaging the engine underneath. That footage revealed two major constraints of the state of the art at that time:

    1) The target had to be stationary. The laser just couldn't

    • A couple of points:

      Not sure where you are from, but in the real world, airplanes are tissue paper compared to ground vehicles. Unless you are talking about the SR71 blackbird, that had titanium leading surfaces to handle the air friction at high mach number, most conventional planes, including military aircraft, are skinned in either aluminum sheet metal or carbon fiber composite and are not designed to stop any kind of fire. Their key defense is in not getting hit and some level or redundancy if they do

      • Oh I do understand that the skin of most aircraft is relatively thin. ( I have a few chunks of aircraft skin hiding in my crawl space, a gift from a airframe tech who used to work on Hercs and is now working on Canada's new C-3 Galaxies. Those pieces are substantially thicker than a truck hood sheet metal, but they came off Model J hercs...)

        But the mechanisms that operate the control surfaces are surprisingly beefy. A fighter aircraft aileron has to deal with air pressure measured in tons. Moving a roughl

  • The Outlaw weights 120 pounds and has a maximum speed of 120 mph, a ceiling of 16,000 feet, and a 17HP two-cylinder two-stroke piston engine http://www.designation-systems.net/dusrm/m-170.html [designation-systems.net].

    Lockheed, get back to me when your ground-based ATHENA system can shoot down a multi-Mach Soviet aircraft that can pull more than seven Gs.
    • Um, one solution is to bait/trick them into flying directly at you... Just shoot fast.

    • Aaaaand a laser travels at 670,000,000 MPH. Assuming that Lockheed can make a targeting system that can accurately track and target something in the sky and a turret that can aim the laser system accurately (they already demonstrated both), the difference in design challenge is trivial between a target at 120 MPH and 800 MPH. Actually, the smaller drone is probably harder to keep the laser steady on than a full sized jet. Knowing the guys over there, I am confident if the laser technology is there, they

  • Or will they just build it?

  • Now I have to design my combat drones to survive loss of flight controls surfaces.

    So I'll build them as flying wings with tails and tailplanes, and let the software figure out how to fly them without a tail when it's damaged/gone.

    Same with either wing, or the nose cone. This is becoming a Black Knight fight. Such a nuisance. All this to get a few pounds of explosives on target. Arg!

    • Get back to me when your software figures out how to fly without your engine, since that is what this laser is targeting. This is not a Hollywood "blow up the plane" weapon, this thing burns through your engine and once the outer casing/bearings fail on a jet engine, the engine it'self will usually tear the plane apart, especially if it is centrally located, as with most fighter jets the world over.

      • FTFS:

        " Earlier this year, Lockheed's ground-based ATHENA system shot down five 10.8-ft (3.3-m) wingspan Outlaw drones by focusing its 30-kW Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative (ALADIN) laser at their stern control surfaces until they burned off, sending them crashing into the desert floor."

        Just pointing out that the summary quoted this. If you can target the engine, I'll shield it and make a point source of heat or apparent exhaust towed off the back and take my chances with your optical targeting sy

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