Having taken out drones with a laser, Lockheed Martin is setting its sights on missiles. The US Missile Defense Agency has awarded the company a nine-month, US$9.4 million contract intended to produce a Low Power Laser Demonstrator (LPLD) missile interceptor concept capable of taking out an ICBM shortly after it lifts off.

Since the V-2 was deployed during the Second World War, the ICBM has been the bugbear of strategic planners. Once an Intercontinental missile has left its silo and gone hypersonic, intercepting one is a matter of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Ideally, the time to take out a missile is right after ignition while it's lumbering skyward lifting not only the warheads, but the vehicle and its tons of fuel.

The problem is that this means hitting a missile from hundreds or thousands of miles away, which requires being able to respond in seconds, if not fractions of a second. No anti-missile has a hope of performing such a task, but a laser, which moves at literally the speed of light, can. The trick is to come up with a laser weapon that can lock on and deliver a beam of sufficient power to destroy the ICBM during that brief window of opportunity.

Using its expertise in laser architecture, ballistic missile defense system integration, optics, and beam control, Lockheed is tasked with developing low-power demonstrator for a directed fiber optic beam weapon that can be fitted into an aircraft platform.

"Our Low Power Laser Demonstrator concept puts advanced beam control systems and a fiber laser on a high-performance, high-altitude platform to maximize risk reduction value over the demonstration period," says Sarah Reeves, director in Strategic and Missile Defense programs. "Lockheed Martin has committed millions of dollars to directed energy research and development, laying the groundwork for the laser technology that brings us much closer to an operational system capable of intercepting a missile in its boost phase."