Military

Turret flight tests to pave the way for laser weapons on military aircraft

Turret flight tests to pave th...
The laser turret prototype being tested on the University of Notre Dame’s Airborne Aero Optical Laboratory Transonic Aircraft in Michigan (Photo: Air Force Research Laboratory)
The laser turret prototype being tested on the University of Notre Dame’s Airborne Aero Optical Laboratory Transonic Aircraft in Michigan (Photo: Air Force Research Laboratory)
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The laser turret prototype being tested on the University of Notre Dame’s Airborne Aero Optical Laboratory Transonic Aircraft in Michigan (Photo: Air Force Research Laboratory)
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The laser turret prototype being tested on the University of Notre Dame’s Airborne Aero Optical Laboratory Transonic Aircraft in Michigan (Photo: Air Force Research Laboratory)
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Close up of the prototype Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control (ABC) turret (Photo: Air Force Research Laboratory)
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Close up of the prototype Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control (ABC) turret (Photo: Air Force Research Laboratory)
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High energy laser (HEL) systems have been the subject of military research for decades, but it is only in recent years that the technology has advanced to the point where it is feasible for such systems to be mounted on military ground vehicles and sea vessels. Initial flight tests have now been conducted on a new aircraft laser turret that will help pave the way for HEL systems to be integrated into military aircraft.

Lockheed Martin, working in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the University of Notre Dame, recently conducted eight flight tests in Michigan with a prototype Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control (ABC) turret fitted to the University of Notre Dame's Airborne Aero Optical Laboratory Transonic Aircraft.

The tests were intended to demonstrate the airworthiness of the new beam control turret being developed for DARPA and AFRL that is designed to provide 360-degree coverage for HEL weapons on an aircraft, thereby allowing it to engage enemy aircraft and missiles above, below and behind the aircraft.

Close up of the prototype Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control (ABC) turret (Photo: Air Force Research Laboratory)
Close up of the prototype Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control (ABC) turret (Photo: Air Force Research Laboratory)

The turret features flow control and optical compensation technologies developed by Lockheed that are designed to counteract the effects of turbulence resulting from the turret protruding from the aircraft's fuselage.

"These initial flight tests validate the performance of our ABC turret design, which is an enabler for integrating high energy lasers on military aircraft," said Doug Graham, vice president of advanced programs, Strategic and Missile Defense Systems, Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Lockheed says subsequent flight tests will be conducted over the course of the next year, which will see the complexity of operations steadily ramping up.

At the 2014 Air Force Association's Air & Space and Technology Expo this week in Washington D.C., Maj. Gen. Tom Masiello who is the Commander of the AFRL, revealed that he has on occasion been leery of the HEL program's progress, saying, "[The high-energy laser program] has been over-promised, but under-delivered."

But it appears that perseverance is finally beginning to pay off with Masiello going on to say that the solid-state laser has emerged as a breakthrough program in recent years. "Now you can actually package it and fit it on an aircraft. I can’t over emphasize the progress we have made in solid-state lasers. Initially, we are looking at more self-defense. Eventually [we will] deploy against soft targets ... getting to hard target kills."

Sources: Lockheed Martin, US Air Force

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7 comments
Mel Tisdale
It will be difficult to avoid blinding anything animate when the target aircraft is missed by the laser beam and strikes them instead, including the crew and passengers of any other aircraft in the vicinity. This fact will become all the more apposite when military aircraft are given a mirror finish, which will scatter the beam hither and thither by way of defence. While military personnel can, I assume, be protected by the goggles which are designed to go black on sensing a nuclear detonation, the same cannot be said for civilians and animals.
I think we need to consider whether these weapons should be banned. Even the bilateral treaty between the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union was too limited in scope in the light of what is possible (and has obviously lapsed anyway). You can treat damage from bullets and cannon and hope to effect a permanent recovery a lot of the time. A fried retina is something else entirely.
Len Simpson
When I was 7, (1938) the Flash Gordon comic strip had one of these, but it was hand held.
Stephen N Russell
I say install mini Laser onto an A10 & remove nose cannon & replace with Laser gun & then add 2 50 cal MG wing guns fwd on plane & install on FA18, F14, F15, F16? Eurofighter.
Lucke
Interesting learn that never are money problems when the purpose is to kill people or to save banks. But, when for saving lives, that's a big problem...
habakak
@Mel
Thousands of innocent civilians pay the ultimate price every year in warfare around the world. I think they would prefer seared retinas to death. The laser is just another weapon. Overall, precision-guided weapons are much more effective and causing less secondary impacts/losses. There will always be weapons and warfare. Well, at least for a very very very long time still.
Slowburn
People that think that banning a weapon will keep it from being used need to ask the Kurds about poison gas.
Jorma
Some people are worried about its effectiveness if the target is covered by mirror. No problem since the laser is probably able to switch to a wavelength that will penetrate.
Some people think there is already too much weapons around. Wouldn't it be good to shoot down North-Korea's and Iran's ballistic missiles when they are approaching with speed 4000m/s, unstoppable by any another weapon?