By David Crane
david (at) defensereview (dot) com
Image Credit: Lockheed Martin
October 20, 2015
DefenseReview (DR) has been covering the development of weapons-grade lasers for awhile now, including aircraft-mounted laser weapon systems. While our most recent piece on aircraft-mounted laser weapons tech was published on September 24th of this year (2015), we actually published a piece specifically on Lockheed Martin’s 30-kilowatt electric fiber laser prototype system utilizing spectral beam combining (SBC), or “superimposition”, back in February 2014. Even before that, we discussed the U.S. Air Force’s search for multiple fighter aircraft-mounted laser weapons systems in an article we published in November 2013. So, news of Lockheed Martin’s developmental prototype 30-kilowatt laser turret designed for supersonic jet fighter aircraft doesn’t exactly come as a huge surprise to us.
Anyway, Lockheed Martin’s new system is called the Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control (ABC) Turret, and it’s being developed with the assistance of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Its main claim to fame is that it’s reportedly the first laser turret ever developed to allow for a 360-degree tactical engagement capability while mounted on an aircraft traveling close to Mach 1 (speed of sound).
The primary hurdle for a supersonic laser weapon system, or laser canon, is overcoming or compensating for aero-optic distortion caused by air turbulance. The key to this feat is the ABC Turret’s “aerodynamic and flow-control technology” combined with its optical compensation system, which is comprised of deformable mirrors. In laymen’s terms, the “Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control” system keeps air turbulance from scattering the laser beam’s light particles like fog scatters normal light beams.
So far, the Lockheed Martin ABC Turret has been “verified” in almost 60 flight tests between 2014 and 2015 using a small civilian business jet as a low-cost platform testbed. In one test, the 30-kilowatt single-mode, electric-fiber laser prototype, nicknamed “Athena”, burned through a truck engine from over a mile away. The spectral beam combining, or superimposition, that creates the 30-kilowatt beam is an interesting technology, in that it combines multiple lower-power laser modules to create the single high-power beam. Athena utilizes technology originally developed for the ground-based Area Defense Anti-Munitions (Adam) laser weapon system.
Gotta’ love progress, especially when it involves laser weapons. And, once again, real life mimics Star Trek and Star Wars…and we like it! Defense Review is interested to learn just how powerful Lockheed Martin’s laser weapons tech can get within the next 5-10 years, within the current ABC Turret prototype’s size and weight envelope.
Company Contact Info:
Lockheed Martin Aculight
22121 20th Avenue SE
Bothell, WA 98021
Email: [email protected]
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