USAF issues RFP for fighter aircraft laser weapon

06 January 2017
Artist's concept of Northrop Grumman's Next-Generation Air Dominance fighter using a laser to destroy incoming missiles. Source: Northrop Grumman

The US Air Force (USAF) has issued a request for proposals (RFP) related to its efforts to field a laser-based self-protection system for its tactical combat aircraft.

The RFP, posted by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Directed Energy Directorate, Laser Division (AFRL/RDL) on the Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps) website on 5 January, seeks research proposals for the service's Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE) project, which is geared at integrating a defensive laser weapon aboard current and future fighter-sized aircraft.

"The objective of LANCE is to perform research and development activities necessary to design, fabricate, and deliver a reliable, ruggedised high-power laser (with excellent beam quality and compact design) for integration within an aerodynamic integrating structure for use during flight testing on tactical aircraft for self-defence research during Phase II of the Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD)," the solicitation said.

At this stage the AFRL/RDL is seeking innovative research and development solutions to advance state-of-the-art laser technologies, to demonstrate performance, and to assess the operational utility of a compact, ruggedised, high-power laser in all potential inbound threat geometries on a tactical aircraft flying in transonic through potentially supersonic regimes.

The scope of the research and development includes development, design, fabrication, and documentation of a novel laser subsystem that fits within the demanding size and mass constraints of the SHiELD aerodynamic integrating structure. The laser will be housed in a supersonic flight-capable pod to be developed under the Laser Pod Research and Development (LPRD) contract.

As noted by the AFRL/RDL, the US government is anticipating a two-phase approach for the SHiELD ATD effort. The first phase consists of low-power tests and performance demonstrations of the beam control subsystem (BCS) and other laser support subsystems at transonic speeds and aero-effects data collection under supersonic flight conditions for laser effectiveness on target.

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