By David Crane
defrev at gmail dot com
September 7, 2008
Laser warfare may be closer than we think. Danger Room and Gizmodo both report that Northrop Grumman is promising the U.S. military that it will have working, deployable weapons-grade solid-state, electric lasers (tactical lasers) ready to go by the end of 2008. Solid-state electric lasers have been making progress under DoD’s Joint High-Powered Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) project. However, as enticing as the idea of flash-cooking enemy soldiers may be, we’ve still got a little ways to go via solid-state electric tactical laser power output and efficiency.
So, what’s the power threshold? 100 kilowatts (100 kW), and Northrop promises it can hit that mark. That’s apparently the magic number for knocking enemy mortars and rockets out of the sky. Northrop’s solution is a…
Death-Star-style laser configuration where multiple small lasers are combined to create a relatively large, powerful 100kW "laser chain" beam. The company’s latest publicly-disclosed achievement is a 30 kW laser beam that ran for 5+ minutes continually and 40+ minutes total, and achieved electrical-to-optical efficiency of greater than 19%. Bob Bishop, a Northrop Grumman spokesman, recently made the following statement to Defense Daily: "We are completely confident we will meet the 100 kW of power level and associated beam quality and runtime requirements of the JHPSSL Phase 3 program by the end of December, 2008."
And Northrop Grumman isn’t the only company benefiting from the U.S. military’s push for a laser-warfare capability. The Army recently awarded Boeing a $36 million ($36M) contract to develop a truck-mounted mobile laser cannon. The truck itself is a modified Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck A4 (HEMTT A4), and the laser cannon/HEMTT combo is known as the High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HELTD).
DefenseReview will keep an eye on directed-energy-weapon (DEW) hardware/technology, including solid state electric laser cannons, to see how it develops, and if Northrop Grumman can back up its claims for an end-of-2008 100-kW solid-state electric laser cannon. Defense Review is curious as to how long it will be before this type of 100-kW laser and other types of directed energy weapons (DEWs) can be made small, light and robust enough to be aircraft-mountable/deployable on fighter and ground-attack aircraft like the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog", and, ultimately, man-packable a.k.a. man-portable. We would imagine that the U.S. military and private industry still have a lot of battery/power-source research and development (R&D) to perform (in addition to solid-state laser R&D) before something like that could even be considered.