Lockheed Martin contract will make sci-fi aerial laser fights a reality

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin is probably known for a lot of things, but it is probably most famous for how it has turned weaponized lasers into more than just a science fiction prop. Demonstrations of its power including being able to stop a moving truck dead in its tracks by blasting out its engines. Now Lockheed Martin is taking that same firepower to the skies. The US Air Force Research Lab has just awarded it a contract to develop a high-power fiber laser system that will be fitted on a tactical fighter jet in 4 years' time.

Lockheed and the military just love its acronyms that would make G.I. Joe fans probably gush with excitement. The contract is part of the Air Force's Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator program, or SHiELD (not a typo). The beam control system is called the SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects or STRAFE, and the high energy laser itself is called the Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments or LANCE. One can only imagine the brainstorming room that came up with such names.

This Lockheed Martin SHiELD-OPSEC is no laughing matter, however. Especially when you consider that the LANCE will be designed to disable targets in mid-air. While it might take a bit of time before we'll see airborne laser dogfights between high-tech jets, the power will still be powerful enough to take down drones, which is beginning to have an even more prominent role in modern warfare.

That said, it won't be totally easy for Lockheed Martin, despite its successful runs on the ground. Fitting such a laser on a jet is a lot trickier compared to doing so on ground vehicles. The 60 kW laser the company put on an Army vehicle will probably hurt more the jet than its target. Careful consideration of aerodynamics as well as space constraints will definitely test Lockheed Martin's capabilities.

But with a budget of $26.3 million and roughly four years to go, Lockheed might very well have this in the bag. Whether we'll see such technology in use, however, is a different matter. And this is one kind of technology we actually hope we don't see.

SOURCE: Lockheed Martin