April 8 (UPI) -- Leidos has been awarded a $19.3 million contract for system integration and field testing of a laser weapon system being developed at Kirtland Air Force base in New Mexico.
The contract provides for advancing work on state-of-the-art of laser weapon system technology through research and development of laser weapon systems, as well as evaluate performance in relevant operational environments, the Air Force announced Friday.
Work will be performed at Kirtland and is expected to be complete by April 22.
Fiscal 2019 research, development, test and evaluation funds in the amount of $500,000 are being obligated at the time of the award.
The Air Force Research Laboratory Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland is the Air Force's only center of expertise for directed energy and optical technologies.
The lab develops and transitions technologies in four core technical competencies: laser systems, high power electromagnetics, weapons modeling and simulation, and directed energy and electro-optics for space superiority.
"AFRL's laser programs are aiming to achieve a laser weapon system that can operate in all flight regimes against targets that are approaching at supersonic speeds, which must be intercepted at significant ranges," according to a 2016 Air Force Research Laboratory report, called "Speed of Light to the Fight by 2020."
Laser weapons advantages were described with "scalable" effects. A 30kW laser can create "denial, degradation, disruption and destruction from UAS [drones] to small boats at a range of several kilometers," the report states.
"More powerful lasers have counter-air, counter-ground, and counter-sea applications against a host of hardened military equipment and vehicles at significant range," the AFRL report writes.
The report details a three-pronged approach to development, starting with subsystems engineering, then low-power laser testing and finally extensive air and ground tests.
By 2021, the Air Force plans to test laser weapons from fighter jets to destroy high-value targets, conduct precision strikes and incinerate enemy locations from the sky.
The Air Force hopes to begin firing laser weapons from larger planes, including C-17s and C-130s, Fox News reported in December.
Once the technology has proven successful, fighter jets such as the F-15, F-16 or F-35 can be utilized with it.
A timetable hasn't been established for drone-fired lasers.
Last October, Ball Aerospace and Technologies signed a deal for $36 million with the U.S. Air Force to provide solid state laser effects and modeling services at Kirtland.
In August 2017, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., announced that the Department of Defense is investing $17 million in directed energy laser weapons at the base in his state.
"With our state's unique expertise in directed energy work, this funding will jump start the deployment of this critical technology and bring more high-paying jobs to the state," said Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"This is an area where New Mexico can make yet another significant contribution to our nation's defense -- and in the process, we can see millions of dollars of investment and many new jobs in our state."
Boeing conducts laser research at its Albuquerque facility and with the Air Force's Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.