May 18, 2015
USAF Wants Fire a 100 kW Laser Weapons By 2022 From a Fighter
It probably won’t even be an F-35A because that’s a stealth aircraft that carries its weapons inside to give it a smaller radar cross section. Instead, the 2022 weapon will be built into an external weapons pod.
By way of comparison, the only forward-deployed laser weapon in the US military today is a 30-kW prototype installed on the broad decks of the USS Ponce, a converted amphibious assault ship now in the Persian Gulf. Lasers fired from a ship face some unique problems that an airplane doesn’t. Sea air is full of moisture, which can weaken and distort the laser beam. Higher altitude air is clearer, but airborne lasers still require sophisticated corrective optics to stay focused on their target. While the atmospherics are arguably easier for an airborne laser than a shipborne one, ships are a lot bigger than a fighter.
What can 100-plus kilowatts kill? A study from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments suggests that it could destroy enemy cruise missiles, drones, and even manned aircraft at significant ranges.
A typical modern fighter like the F-16 can carry at most six air-to-air missiles. Shoot six times, hit or miss, and it’s back to base to re-arm. By contrast, a laser-armed aircraft could just head back to the tanker.