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By 13 November 2017 | Categories: news

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Could dogfights with lasers soon be a reality? According to Lockheed Martin, the company has scored a$26.3 million contract to design, develop, and produce a high-power laser weapon for the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL). This must be ready to be tested on tactical fighter jets by as early as 2021.

The New Atlas website reports that airborne laser weapons have been around for awhile, although the size and practicality of these have been a problem. Previous attempts hark back to the 80s, but these chemical lasers were so large that it could only be mounted in a Boeing 747.

Solid state fibre optic lasers have bought the changes necessary for smaller weaponry, with it being featured in Lockheed's ground-based Athena laser system. Athena has managed to shoot down five Outlaw drones earlier this year by directing a 30-kW Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative (ALADIN) laser at them until they burnt out and crashed. Lockheed has also developed a 60 kW-class laser that has been installed on U.S. Army ground vehicles, with Dr. Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems at Lockheed Martin noting that the technology is also ready for deployment on ships.

Lockheed's airborne laser forms part of the AFRL's Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) programme, which will feature a turret to direct the beam to the target, a mounting pod for power and cooling, and of course the laser itself. All this must be able to install on a fighter jet.

"We have demonstrated our ability to use directed energy to counter threats from the ground, and look forward to future tests from the air as part of the SHiELD system," notes Afzal.

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