By RUSS READ
The U.S. Army is about to make a technological leap as it prepares to field a small, yet ultra-powerful laser weapon system.
Lockheed Martin announced it had completed the design, development and demonstration of the Army’s new laser in a press release Thursday. The 60-kilowatt laser is one of the most powerful of its kind, and could be delivered to the Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command in Huntsville, Ala., in a matter of months.
“Delivery of this laser represents an important milestone along the path to fielding a practical laser weapon system,” said Vice President Paula Hartley, head of Advanced Product Solutions within Lockheed’s cyber, ships, and advanced technologies line, in a statement. “This milestone could not have been achieved without close partnership between the U.S. Army and Lockheed Martin; we are pleased to be able to deliver this system for their further integration and evaluation.”
Laser weapons are nothing new to the U.S. military. The Navy announced in January it plans to mount laser weapons, known as LaWS in military jargon, on ships within the next two years.
The Army’s weapon is revolutionary because it pushes the limits of modern science to create one of the most powerful lasers of its kind. Lockheed’s weapon is known as a fiber laser, meaning it brings together individual laser beams generated through fiber optics to create “a single, intense laser beam.”
You can watch some of Lockheed’s laser tests in the video below.
While not as powerful as the Navy’s huge 150 kW weapon, the Army laser is much smaller, so it can be deployed on Army vehicles. Not only that, the design is scalable, so more individual lasers can be added to create an even more powerful weapon.
“The inherent scalability of this beam combined laser system has allowed us to build the first 60kW-class fiber laser for the U.S. Army,” said Robert Afzal, senior fellow for Laser and Sensor Systems at Lockheed Martin. “We have shown that a powerful directed energy laser is now sufficiently light-weight, low volume and reliable enough to be deployed on tactical vehicles for defensive applications on land, at sea and in the air.”
To put the weapon’s power into perspective, consider this: Lockheed was able to use a 30 kW weapon, known as ATHENA, to disable a truck from a mile away. With double that power, Army units will be able to defend from “swarms of drones or large numbers of rockets and mortars,” according to Lockheed.
The timing of the project could not be better, as U.S. enemies across the world are rapidly advancing drone capabilities. Even Islamic State has been able to deploy drones to significant effect on the battlefield.