The US Air Force is reaching out to small businesses with modelling and simulation expertise to assist in reaching its goal to field airborne laser weapons by 2023, the date by which the service plans to have an appropriate programme of record.
Stellar Sciences in Albuquerque, NM has been awarded a $7 million, five-year contract to provide advanced laser modelling and simulation and virtual testing for directed energy weapons – work it began for USAF in 2014. Objectives of the programme include the ability to model and orient 3D models of satellites from 2D information, indicating, perhaps, that the customer seeks an anti-satellite capability in addition to other offensive and defensive functionality.
Applications for airborne laser weapons include the full gamut of air-to-air combat, close air support, counter-UAV, maritime strike and possibly ballistic missile defence. Attractions for the user include low cost and a ‘deep magazine’ capacity, overcoming the limitation of the number of missiles any one platform can carry.
Ground testing of the High Energy Laser demonstrator took place at White Sands in 2016 and the first airborne tests are expected to commence in 2021. The Air Force has also commissioned the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator aimed at development of an aircraft-compatible laser pod for self-defence. Effort is being focused on increasing power output from 10 to 100kW, and developing a mobile power source powerful enough and small enough to be mounted in a combat aircraft. Early testing will be conducted from platforms such as the C-17 GLOBEMASTER III or C-130 HERCULES, but ultimately the ambition is to mount lasers in aircraft such as the F-15, F-16 and F-35.