Lightweight High-Energy Liquid Laser (HELLADS) prepared for live fire tests

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HELLADS is primarily intended as an air-to-ground laser weapon(Credit: DARPA)

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A high-power laser weapon light enough to be carried by tactical aircraft has moved out of the laboratory and onto the testing ground. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems' High-Energy Liquid Laser Defense System (HELLADS) has finished its US Government Acceptance Test Procedure and is on its way to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for live-fire tests.

Laser weapons have made great strides in recent years, but one of the most sought after goals has been to marry high power to light weight so the system can be installed in aircraft and other very mobile platforms. The result of a DARPA program, the all-electric HELLADS punches a 150 kW laser, yet is only a tenth the size and weight of comparable systems.

DARPA's brief for HELLADS was for a high-powered air-to-ground laser that could be installed in a tactical aircraft. It had to weigh under 5 kg (11 lb) per kW, and have a volume of 3 cubic meters (105 cubic ft). According to General Atomics, this required the development of second- and third-generation laser systems based on specialized laser materials and optics, as wells as improved manufacturing methods.

The result is an all-electric 150-kW laser weighing under 2,000 lb (907 kg). General Atomics says that this is the world record for the highest laser output power of any electrically-powered laser, yet has notably low power consumption, and required the creation of the world’s highest brightness laser diodes, a compact battery storage system, and thermal storage systems

For the White Sands tests, HELLADS will be in a ground-based configuration and set against military targets for Counter-Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar (CRAM), and counter-air and counter-missile roles. If the system demonstrates the needed beam quality, laser power, efficiency, size, and weight, it will go on for further development. General Atomics says that when deployed, HELLADS could be installed not only in aircraft, but in patrol ships and armored combat vehicles.

“HELLADS represents a new generation of tactical weapon systems with the potential to revolutionize sovereign defenses and provide a significant tactical advantage to our warfighters,” said Linden Blue, CEO of General Atomics. “It is remarkable to see high-power laser technology mature into an extremely compact weapons system and be deployed for field tests. It will be even more remarkable to witness the impact that this will have on U.S. Defense capability.”

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