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Air Force will test laser weapons on fighter jets this summer

A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle assigned to the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron responds to an alert scramble notification at Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania, Sept. 4, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
March 20, 2018

The U.S. Air Force will be testing a laser weapon mounted on an F-15 fighter jet this summer, an Air Force official said Monday, AFP reported.

“We have got tests starting this summer and the flight tests next summer,” said Jeff Stanley, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology and engineering.

Last year, the Pentagon awarded Lockheed Martin with a $26.3 million contract to design and build a laser capable of taking out surface-to-air and air-to-air missile threats. The laser is a part of an Air Force Research Laboratory program called Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD).

The laser system will have an output of roughly 50 kilowatts.

The Air Force has had issues finding a laser small enough and powerful enough to be mounted on a fighter jet that can take out aerial threats. However, with fiber laser technological improvements, more power can be stored in a more compact system.

The SHiELD program includes a beam control system that will direct the laser onto a target, and a pod that will power and cool the laser.

“We’re able now to put a scalable system together that’s very efficient at converting electric power into a high-power laser beam while maintaining the beam quality. And by maintaining that beam quality, that means you get the most effectiveness from your system,” Lockheed Martin laser weapons expert Robert Afzal told reporters last year.

“Because the system is efficient, it demands fewer resources from the platform. It demands the lowest amount of electric power and generates the lowest amount of waste heat,” he added.

While testing for the laser weapons system begins this year, there are still several challenges it will face before it can be used on the battlefield.

“There are still some technical challenges that we have to overcome, mainly size, weight, power,” Stanley said.