Lockheed Martin begins manufacturing vehicle-mounted laser weapon

Lockheed Martin's related ATHENA laser weapon system was tested against a pickup truck in March(Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin announced this week that production of a new laser weapon system has begun at the company's Bothell, Washington facility. The high-powered laser weapon modules will be used as the heart of a 60-kilowatt system designed to be fitted to a US Army vehicle.

The laser can be operated by a single person and is made up of multiple fiber laser modules, which not only allows for greater flexibility, but also lessens the chance of the weapon being knocked out by a minor malfunction, so frequent repairs aren't required. Lockheed Martin also says that the modular design means that the laser power can be varied across an extremely wide range to suit specific mission needs. Using off-the-shelf commercial fiber laser components to keep down costs, the modules can be linked together to produce lasers of up to 120 kW.

Lockheed says that the laser is based on Spectrum Beam Combining, which overcomes the limitations of other lasers by using fiber laser modules where the active gain medium consists of an optical fiber doped with a rare-earth element such as erbium, ytterbium, neodymium, or others. The optical fibers are flexible, so the laser can be thousands of meters long for greater gain, while taking up very little space because it can be coiled like a rope. The large surface-to-volume ratio means that it's easy to cool. In addition, fiber lasers are very durable and project a high-quality beam using 50 percent less electricity than an equivalent solid-state laser.

"A robust laser system with minimal operational down-time results from the integration of modular fiber-based lasers," says Iain Mckinnie, business development lead for Laser Sensors and Systems, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training. "With modular lasers, the possibility of a complete system failure due to a single-point disruption is dramatically lessened. Production is also affordable due to the ease of reproducing module components."

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