Star Wars, Star Trek – even Buck Rogers – all have fictional laser beams that can blast enemies to smithereens. And up to now, laser cannons have pretty much remained in science fiction. But now, military researchers and defense contractors may be close to launching actual laser weapons.
It's a new project being developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has partnered with Notre Dame University and the Air Force Research Lab to create a high-energy laser weapon for military planes of the not-so-distant future. The future of air combat is changing before our eyes.
This is a potentially game changing development that could go a long way to keeping our military men and women safer in the air. The new weapon is much more advanced than anything that's in use right now.
The lasers passed Air Force and FAA requirements and have been used in some test flights. But, the weapon isn't deployed in use yet because it still has to be tested in situations that are more complex. Those tests will take place over the next year to figure out how well the weapons will actually work.
Lockheed Martin's new weapon will greatly increase a military aircraft's ability to engage enemies and defend itself. That's because the laser is mounted on a 360-degree turret that allows the laser to lock on to aircraft and missiles that are above, below or behind it.
There were some concerns that large turret would affect the way the aircraft flew and cause turbulence. But, Lockheed Martin has other technologies in place that have take care of those worries and the test planes have flown well in initial tests.
“These initial flight tests validate the performance of our ABC turret design, which is an enabler for integrating high energy lasers on military aircraft,” said Doug Graham, vice president of advanced programs, Strategic and Missile Defense Systems, Lockheed Martin Space Systems.
That sounds like something straight out of Star Wars to me. But, surprisingly it's real. And, the first tests have shown that the weapon is probably close to being ready for action.