Lockheed Martin juices up its laser weapon to half a megawatt
Lockheed Martin is raising the bar on its 300-kW laser weapon system, announcing it is scaling it up to 500 kW under a new contract from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering (OUSD (R&E)).
With the ability to intercept targets at the speed of light and an operating cost of a dollar a shot, lasers have been very attractive in military circles for six decades. However, getting practical laser weapons to the battlefield has been a long time coming because of the need to make such systems light enough, compact enough, robust enough, and powerful enough for the job.
As part of the second phase of the High Energy Laser Scaling Initiative (HELSI), Lockheed is pushing to increase the output of its solid-state laser weapon to 500 kW, giving it the capacity to take on larger, harder, and more maneuverable threats.
As in previous iterations, the laser is generated by coils of optical fibers doped with neodymium yttrium aluminum garnet and integrated into a system that includes a target illuminator laser (TILL) for locking onto and tracking targets and a beacon illuminator laser (BILL) for measuring atmospheric distortion that is compensated for by adaptive optics. These, with the high-energy laser, in turn, are linked to a battle management system that monitors the area, tracks and evaluates potential targets, and determines the level of threats.
The tricky bit is to up the power of the weapon without affecting its ability to combine the several beams across the spectrum used to generate the output laser and the quality of the output beam while adhering to the Department of Defense Modular Open System Approach standards for interoperability and multi-mission integration.
"OUSD (R&E) has invested to mature high energy lasers in support of America’s war-fighters," said Rick Cordaro, vice president of Mission Systems & Weapons at Lockheed Martin. "At the same time, Lockheed Martin has invested in our production infrastructure in anticipation of the Department of Defense’s demand for laser weapons that have additional layers of protection with deep magazines, low cost per engagement, high speed of light delivery and high precision response reducing logistics requirements. The 500-kW laser will incorporate our successes from the 300-kW system and lessons learned from legacy programs to further prove the capability to defend against a range of threats."
Source: Lockheed Martin