From surface warships, jet fighter aircraft, military tactical vehicles, to even unmanned systems, laser weapons are demonstrating with increasing frequency that they are ready for the battlefield.
The 21st Century already has seen more “science fiction” become everyday fact than at any other time in history, from smart phones that make Star Trek’s communicators appear primitive to the Robonaut — a C3P0-like humanoid robot working on the International Space Station — to perhaps the most iconic of all: laser weapons.
Directed-energy weapons (DEWs) have been a staple of future warfare depictions since H.G. Wells published “War of the Worlds,” with its Martian “heat rays” 120 years ago. Hughes Aircraft engineer and physicist Theodore Harold Maimain generally is credited with inventing the laser, firing the world’s first coherent light — in-phase rays of the same wavelength — from his solid-state pink ruby laser on 16 May 1960.
Progress from that point moved steadily forward technologically, but lasers found little support from military leaders, who saw them as little more than weak, short-range toys. One of the first large-scale productions of lasers actually was in toys, along with laser pointers. As they became stronger, with longer ranges, the military began using laser beams to illuminate targets; warfighters on the ground or aboard helicopters would focus a beam on a target, and a rocket, typically fired from a second platform, would follow the beam to the target.
Laser-guided weapons improved significantly during the long post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, becoming part of the U.S. military’s arsenal of precision guided weapons that greatly reduced collateral damage to property and non-combatants. Experiments continue to expand the way in which lasers are and will be used by the military, such as recharging unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in flight.
The article continues on to discuss:
- Near-term pushes.
- Lasers vs. kinetic weapons - replacements or complementary.
- Considerations for lasers as weapon "systems."
- Size, weight and power (SWAP).
- Activities and programs advancing laser technology.
- The role of artificial intelligence (AI) in laser weapons.
USAF Strategic Framework
Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) Programs
- AFRL Directed Energy Directorate (with overview of SHiELD), AFRL, Dec 2016.
- Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) Prototype, Lockheed Martin.
- Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE), Contract to Develop Compact Airborne High Energy Laser Capabilities, Lockheed Martin, 6 Nov 2017.
- High-Energy Laser Weapon System (HELWS), The Answer is the Laser Dune Buggy, Raytheon, 15 Jan 2018.
- HELWS and Microwave Directed Energy System, Forty-Five Down, Raytheon, 24 Mar 2018.
- Laser Strike (high energy laser mounted on AH-64 helicopter), Raytheon, 26 Jan 201.
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