EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES

Lockheed Martin to Deliver Powerful Laser to Army

3/17/2017
By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Photo: Lockheed Martin

A powerful 60-kilowatt laser that could knock out enemy drones or burn a hole through a truck will soon be delivered to the Army.

The high-powered beam combined fiber laser — which is being built by Lockheed Martin — will be delivered to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Alabama, in the coming months, said Robert Afzal, the company's senior fellow for laser and sensor systems.

The company recently demonstrated “that we could take a number of high power fiber lasers and through our technique of spectral beam combination, combine the output of the individual fiber lasers into a single near perfect diffraction-limited beam and generate on the order of 60 kilowatts of output power,” he told reporters during a phone call March 16.

“Diffraction-limited” means that the beam “was close to the physical limits for focusing energy toward a single, small spot,” according to the company.

The weapon will be outfitted on the Army’s heavy expanded mobility tactical truck, Afzal noted. A company spokesman noted that while the laser has the capacity to hit drones, mortars and trucks, he could not say whether the Army would use the system to do so.

Lockheed's laser is powered directly from electricity and has an electrical-to-optical efficiency of 43 percent, Afzal said.

“That’s a very important number because it means that the power supply you need to operate the laser can be much smaller,” he said. It also means that the amount of waste heat that is produced by the laser is reduced, allowing for minimized cooling requirements.

“This is really a key step forward for high-powered lasers,” he said.

Lockheed has been working with the Army on the project for years, Afzal said. The company will conduct some additional tests on the system in its Bothell, Washington, facility over the next few months until delivery.

So far Lockheed has only tested the laser to 58 kilowatts, but it plans to continue to optimize the system, and it anticipates that it will reach 60 kilowatts by the time of delivery, Afzal said.

The company’s laser technology is scalable depending on customer’s needs. “There is a path to going to higher and higher powers as our service partners need them,” he said. Additionally, it could reduce the size of the laser itself if size, weight and power constraints required it. Afzal declined to say how large the Army’s laser system is.

The Army had already integrated a less powerful laser onto a HEMTT tactical wheeled vehicle, he noted. However, Lockheed’s system, when mounted on the truck, will be five times more powerful, he said.

The system could be deployed today, he added. “The laser that we built is not just a laboratory demonstration,” he said. “In terms of the maturity of the technology to be fieldable on an Army vehicle, this technology is ready for that.”

The laser could be used on a variety of systems including air and sea-based platforms, he said.

“Because of the flexibility and the scalability of the architecture and that it would be combined with an optical system to do the targeting, we’re looking at a whole host of platforms,” he said.

Opportunities are ripe for laser technology across the services, Afzal said. Lockheed is looking at a number of programs across the services including the Air Force’s self-protected high-energy laser demonstration, the Navy’s Sea Saber program and Special Operations Command’s effort to equip an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship with a directed energy weapon, he said.

“Each one of the services is moving forward with exploring this capability,” he said.

 

Topics: Acquisition Programs, Advanced Weapons, Emerging Technologies

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