The AFRL [U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory] said, they are on their way to demonstrate a working laser weapon placed on a fighter jet by 2020.
With the invention of guns, warfare went on a whole new level. Later, airplanes changed it again. Now, experts believe that another shift is coming which is led by energy weapons and lasers.
Kelly Hammett – Chief Engineer for AFRL’s directed energy directorate – said, the technology is maturing to the stage where it really can be used.
Arming larger planes with laser weapons is not a problem anymore. It has been possible for years now by the U.S. Air Force. But creating a small, accurate and powerful enough laser for fighter jet has been a more difficult challenge. The gravitational force and sound vibrations are making it tough, said Hammett. According to him, these hurdles can be overcome within five years.
This is not it. U.S. Air Force is also working on something which sounds like “Star Trek”: A Defense Laser Shield – as in, Shields up, Mr. Sulu.
The idea is, plane will be surrounded by a 360-degree laser bubble. Anything that comes in the bubble will be disabled or destroyed. Like, if a missile comes inside the radius of the bubble, it will be disabled.
You would need a turret that doesn’t interfere the aerodynamics of airplane, to invent such a shield. And such a turret has already been tested under the supervision of Hammett at AFRL, in partnership with Lockheed and DARPA.
General Herbert Hawk Carlisle – The commander of Air Force Combat Command – revealed about the test last May. He said, I am optimistic that we will see a prototype in next year or two. A mix laser and conventional weapons will totally transform battle space in 20 – 25 years.
Here’s how laser weapons work: Lasers are extremely concentrated beams of light. When they are reflected on the target, they heat the targets to such high temperature that they burn or ignite, disabling the target. Hammett told us, fighter jets will use a laser called solid state. It creates laser beams by pumping energy into a solid crystalline material.
The laser weapons will be able to take out all the possible threats. It can take out enemy’s vehicle or disable infrastructure such as cell towers.
Electricity equals ammunition when you are shooting a laser. As long as plane has fuel to power itself, he laser weapon will be loaded.
As Hammett said, there will be no limit on ammunition. You can have unlimited magazine. Adding these equipment’s to a jet fighter would make it incredible. The jet will have access to a wide variety of targets. Incredible precision.
The questions arises: Are these weapons even legal???
Well, this is a serious question and needs to be addressed. There is a treaty called the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons that prohibits the usage of laser weapons – specifically designed as combat weapons – which cause permanent blindness.
A report from Pentagon, in 2007 said that laser weapons are legal under U.S. law and international law.
The United States of America is not the only nation that wants these new laser weapons. Hammett told us that there are other nations as well who are developing similar technologies. Though he didn’t tell which countries.
The AFRL’s directed energy wing spend one third of their $150 million per year budget on laser technology. Hammett said they are fully funded to reach the goal by 2020.
In the end, with the widespread of UAV – aka drones – you have to ask: Are drones getting this technology too?
Hammett said they are definitely thinking about it.