Lockheed to develop fighter jet laser cannon

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Lockheed Martin has been awarded $26m by the US government’s Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) to develop a high-power fibre laser that will be tested on a fighter jet by 2021.

Lockheed Martin is helping the Air Force Research Lab develop and mature high energy laser weapon systems

The contract to develop the laser is part of AFRL’s Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program, which is developing all of the technologies required to install and operate a high energy laser weapon on an aircraft.

Last year AFRL also awarded contracts worth a reported $90m to Boeing to develop the pod in which the laser will be housed, and $39m to Northrop Grumman, which is responsible for the beam control system that will track targets, compensate for atmospheric conditions that could distort the laser beam, and focus the outgoing beam on the target.

Lockheed’s portion of the project, known as LANCE (Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments) will see the development a high-power fibre laser that will disable targets.

Northrop Grumman is responsible for the beam control system

As previously reported by The Engineer, Lockheed has been developing technology based around fibre laser beam combining – a technique in which beams from multiple fibre laser modules are combined to form a single, powerful, high quality beam – for a number of years now.

Along with a number of other major defence contractors, including Raytheon and MBDA, the company has carried out a series of trials of laser weapons mounted on ground vehicles, but LANCE, which is designed to operate in a far more compact environment, presents a far greater challenge.

"Earlier this year, we delivered a 60kW-class laser to be installed on a US Army ground vehicle. It's a completely new and different challenge to get a laser system into a smaller, airborne test platform," said Dr. Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems at Lockheed Martin. "The development of high power laser systems like SHiELD show laser weapon system technologies are becoming real. The technologies are ready to be produced, tested and deployed on aircraft, ground vehicles and ships."