GLOBAL DEFENSE MARKET

Lockheed Invests in Laser Technology

12/1/2015
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Lockheed Martin is investing heavily in laser technology and new ways to manufacture such systems, as the company begins production of 60-kilowatt lasers for the U.S. Army. 

“They really can be a revolutionary technology and the advantages that they bring are speed of delivery, flexibility, precision and low cost for engagement,” said Iain Mckinnie, business development lead for laser sensors and systems at Lockheed’s mission systems and training division.

Lockheed is developing a new class of laser systems that could one day be mounted on a variety of tactical platforms, including aircraft like the F-35 joint strike fighter.

The current laser in production — a 60-kilowatt system — will be mounted on a vehicle for the Army. It marks the first product that uses Lockheed’s new modular laser approach with fiber modules, which offers flexibility and scalability.

Rob Afzal, a senior fellow at Lockheed Martin, said over the past few years there has been a fiber optic revolution, starting with the telecommunications industry and moving into manufacturing.

“What we’re doing is we’re leveraging these two revolutions and [we] developed a scaling technology — a beam combining technology where we can take large numbers of fiber laser modules, similar to what’s used in the cutting and welding industry, but combine them together to generate a high-powered weapons grade beam,” he said.

The system works much like a prism when it breaks up light. “We have a number of fiber laser modules, we run them through an optical element that does the beam combination and out comes a single high-powered beam with very good beam quality,” he said. Such a system could project a beam for a long distance, he noted.

Lockheed has shown that it can produce a system that is scalable and flexible. While the company is working on a 60-kilowatt system, it could be scaled to 120 kilowatts.

The system will be more affordable than traditional weapons because it takes advantage of commercial technology, Afzal said.

Most or all of the armed services have signaled that they are interested in laser technology, Mckinnie said. Lasers are ideal for countering swarm threats — coordinated but inexpensive hordes of armed drones, ships or vehicles — but he noted that there are some situations that are better suited for conventional weapons.

The fiber module laser will be produced at Lockheed’s Bothell, Washington, facility.

Topics: Science and Engineering Technology

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