Aircraft with laser weapons incoming by 2022

27 May 2015

Continuing its mission to expand its range of terrifying weaponry, the US Air Force has firm plans to equip its next generation of fighters with laser weapons capable of shooting down missiles and aircraft by 2022.

While laser weapons as we currently know them are confined mostly to science-fiction films, the actual use of lasers as a weapon deterrent against missiles, for example, has been around for a number of years.

Only last year, the US Navy’s USS Ponce was the first in its arsenal to be equipped with the state-of-the-art LaWS (Laser Weapons System) to be used in defence against everything from airborne missiles to seaborne small craft such as dinghies.

Well, now, according to Breaking Defense, fighter aircraft in seven years’ time will be capable of being rigged up with laser weapons like nothing seen before.

Before that can happen, however, the US Air Force has plans to fit out its airborne gunship, the AC-130, with the first of its laser weapons.

Illustration of lasers used by fighter jets. Image via US Air Force

This will then be equipped to fighters as an attached laser pod.

The news came following the recent Lab Day hosted at the Pentagon, which confirmed the programme and said that if it is to be effective, the lasers will need to be powerful, perhaps as powerful as 100kW or more.

The biggest challenge the US Air Force has is making sure the laser stays stable, which can prove quite troublesome on a powerful aircraft that vibrates often.

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) David Hardy, who has the amazing job title of ‘director, directed energy directorate’, said: “Air applications actually can be the most challenging.

“On a ship, I’m probably going to have more SWAP [Size Weight And Power] than I’m going to have on an aircraft.” He went on to say “aircraft tend to shake more than a ship does: A ship rolls but it doesn’t vibrate as much”.

F35 fighter jet image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic