The LANCE program aims to develop laser weapons for protecting pilots against airborne threats. Pictured: Concept artwork for Northrop Grumman's laser weapon system. Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman
WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has issued a request for proposal to develop laser protection systems for its fleet of tactical fighter aircraft.
The competitive request aims to solicit research for the Air Force Research Laboratory's Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments project, or LANCE. Under the program, researchers will investigate laser-based solutions for defending pilots from a variety of anti-aircraft threats.
"The objective of LANCE is to perform research and development activities necessary to design, fabricate and deliver a reliable, ruggedized high-power laser (with excellent beam quality and compact design) for integration within an aerodynamic integrating structure for use during flight testing on tactical aircraft for self-defense research during Phase II of the Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHIELD) Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD)," the request says.
The Air Force expects to award only one new contract for the project, but did not disclose an official number. The total estimated cost for the award is $35 million.
Several top U.S.-based defense contractors have already been involved with assisting the country's armed forces in developing airborne laser technologies.
In November 2016, Northrop Grumman received a contract to aid the branch with using direct energy systems to protect current and future aircraft. The company is tasked with producing the weapon's beam control portion as part of the Self-Project High Energy Laser Demonstrator program, or SHIELD.
Once completed, the weapon will be housed on a pod attached to fighter aircraft.
In October 2015, Lockheed Martin developed a turret-based laser weapon that can be fired in any direction. Tests on the weapon, known as the Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control, were conducted using a business jet as a platform.