National Defense reports Lockheed Martin is developing a directed energy weapon for stealth fighter jets with deployment expected around the mid-2020s.
"We're committing to putting a laser pod equipped with a high-energy laser in the air within five years," said Mark Stephen, business development lead for strategic technology development at Lockheed Martin's missiles and fire control division.
Stephen said Lockheed is a "core" member of an industry team working the Air Force Research Laboratory's (AFRL) Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program, to develop a directed energy weapon that will eventually be molded into an aircraft pod.
The laser pods will be a game-changer for stealth aircraft and or drones, able to zap threatening surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles with laser beams. Readers may recall (see: here & here), we've covered AFRL's program to design, develop, test, and eventually deploy laser pods on fighter jets.
Stephen said the new jet-mounted laser gun would likely be deployed around 2025. Stealth fighter jets, such as the F-35 or F-22, will probably be the first aircraft to receive the new weapon. In 2019, US Air Force officials revealed ground-based laser tests of the new weapon successfully downed "several missiles."
By 2025, the projected year of laser cannons entering the modern battlefield - the Air Force will likely have a new sixth-generation prototype stealth fighter - with operational timelines around 2030. Air combat's future is rapidly changing as stealth fighter jets in the next 5-8 years will likely be armed with not just laser cannons but also hypersonic missiles.
Besides the Air Force, Lockheed has also patterned with the Navy and Army to develop other directed energy capabilities.
Stephen said the defense company "established a new directed energy system integration lab in Orlando, Florida, to test high-energy lasers and beam directors as it integrates them into pods."
"By 2021, this lab will be certified to test high-energy laser outfits up to 50 kilowatts and will allow firing of 150-kilowatt class lasers by 2024," Stephen noted.
The world is becoming a scary place - a top UK military commander warned this week how the coronavirus pandemic is a "real risk" of sparking another world war.