The race between the US, China, Israel and Russia to develop laser technology in the military sector is red hot, never better said. Spain plays in another league, while the great arms powers invest enormous resources in what may be the most decisive technology on the battlefield in the coming decades. Over the last year we have seen projects such as the Russian Kalina, a telescope with a laser beam to blind satellitesor the Iron Beam, the new Israeli anti-aircraft dome capable of destroying any aerial target in 4 seconds.
However, it is the United States that maintains the leadership, largely thanks to the contributions of the manufacturer Lockheed Martin. In recent months, the company specializing in weapons has presented its laser cannons to mount on fighters and shoot down missilesas well as HELIOS, the laser weapon for ships with which the US can shoot down planes and sink ships. His latest advancement is a solid-state laser intended to be attached to units on land, sea and air with a power of up to 300 kWfive times higher than that of HELIOS.
The goal here is no longer to dazzle enemy fighter pilots or melt their sensors, or even melt small drones. Such power is intended for destroy large and long range targets, penetrating armor and decks like butter. The laser has already been delivered to the US Department of Defense, which will integrate it into a US Army high-energy laser demonstration later this year.
Advantages of the laser
Laser weapons are not yet widespread, given the cost of their development, but they offer several advantages over projectile-based weapons. The most important virtues are instant hitsprecision when hitting targets, which reduces the risk of collateral damage, and scalable power depending on the requirements of each mission.
Although they have a high initial cost, laser weapons are very profitable once established, as they have negligible costs per shot, especially compared to missiles that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Among the drawbacks, without a doubt, are the enormous energy requirements, the decrease in power with increasing distance, and the sensitivity to atmospheric conditions, which can alter the efficiency of the laser.
Lockheed Martin’s new 300 kW laser has been developed in collaboration with Dynetics as part of the Pentagon’s High Energy Laser Scaling Initiative (HELSI), a US Department of Defense program to strengthen all initiatives around directed energy and improve the quality and power of lasers for military use.
The Lockheed and Dynetics team beat out Raytheon in a direct competition in 2019 to develop a 100 kW laser weapon, as part of the High Energy Tactical Vehicle’s laser system (HEL TVD). The army later modified the contract to broaden the target with its sights set on a more ambitious target, three times more powerful.
Since then, when the Pentagon tapped Lockheed Martin to “scale its spectral-beam combined high-energy laser architecture to the 300 kW level,” the US defense giant has turned to developing a weapon with enormous potential. So much so that they have even completed the task ahead of schedule and are counting on the fact that, after both field and laboratory tests to be carried out this year, definitively enter service in 2024.
“Lockheed Martin has increased the power and efficiency and reduced the weight and bulk of high-energy continuous-wave lasers, which reduces risk to future efforts in the field of high-power laser weapon systemsRick Cordaro, vice president of Lockheed Martin, said in a press release.
Unfortunately, beyond the maximum power of the laser itself, the data on its range or cadence have not been revealed. But, taking into account those 300 kW, it can be concluded that the future weapons based on this technology will be able to attack a greater variety of targetsincluding armor and warships, at a greater distance and with greater speed.
Other US laser weapons
As part of another of the Pentagon’s innovation programs, announced in 2020, Boeing and General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) also are working on the construction of another 300 kW laser.
known as Distributed Gain High Energy Laser Weapon Systemintegrates distributed gain laser technology from GA-EMS, a beam director and Boeing’s high-precision acquisition, tracking and pointing software.
“The prototype high-powered, compact laser weapon subsystem that GA-EMS will deliver under this contract will produce lethal power greater than anything that has been submitted to date,” said Scott Forney, president of GA. -EMS, in another press release. “This technology represents a leap-forward capability for air and missile defense needed to support Army modernization efforts and to defeat next generation threats in a multi-domain battlespaceForney pointed out.
The system will use two seventh generation laser heads in a very compact and lightweight package and will be able to function as a stand-alone system or integrated into land vehicles, ships and aircraft.
Before such powerful lasers are put to the test, the Pentagon is looking to integrate the lasers into existing platforms. In this regard, at the end of September, the US Army will be handed over the first M-SHORAD vehicles with a 50 kW laser. This laser cannon is designed to be effective against drones from 9 to 600 kilos, in addition to defending soldiers from rockets, mortars and artillery.
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