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Lockheed contracted to develop airborne laser capability

The weapon would be the first developed for a fighter jet and is expected to enter testing by 2021.

By James LaPorta and Stephen Feller
Lockheed contracted to develop airborne laser capability
Lockheed Martin is working with the Air Force Research Lab to develop and mature high energy laser weapon systems, including the high energy laser pictured in this rendering. Photo by Air Force Research Lab

Nov. 6 (UPI) -- A new contract that seems to be ripped from Star Wars calls for Lockheed Martin to design, develop and produce a high-power fiber laser for the U.S. Air Force Research Lab.

The $26.3 million dollar contract, announced by Lockheed on Monday, calls for the laser to be mounted on a tactical fighter jet by 2021 and is part of the U.S. Air Force's Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator, or SHiELD, program.

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"Lockheed Martin continues to rapidly advance laser weapon systems and the technologies that make them possible," said Dr. Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems at Lockheed Martin. "We have demonstrated our ability to use directed energy to counter threats from the ground, and look forward to future tests from the air as part of the SHiELD system."

The SHiELD program is comprised of three subsystems -- the beam control system, which directs the laser onto the target, is being designed by Northrop Grumman; a pod mounted on a tactical jet to power and cool the laser, which is being designed by Boeing; and the high energy laser itself, which is being developed by Lockheed.

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"Earlier this year, we delivered a 60 kW-class laser to be installed on a U.S. Army ground vehicle. It's a completely new and different challenge to get a laser system into a smaller, airborne test platform. It's exciting to see this technology mature enough to embed in an aircraft," said Afzal. "The development of high power laser systems like SHiELD show laser weapon system technologies are becoming real. The technologies are ready to be produced, tested and deployed on aircraft, ground vehicles and ships."

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The laser, which must be compact and highly efficient, also must work within "challenging" size, weight and power limits, is expected to be tested on a fighter aircraft by 2021, the Lockheed said.

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