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US Air Force in source selection for SHiELD laser

22 May 2017

Key Points

  • US Air Force in source selection for final phase of SHiELD laser programme
  • Contract award will bring programme one step closer to demonstrations

The US Air Force's Research Laboratory (AFRL) expects to award a contract in mid- to late 2017 for the laser portion of its Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD), according to a key official.

Lieutenant Tyler Brewer, a laser defence physicist within the AFRL's applications branch directed energy directorate, told Jane's on 18 May at the Pentagon that the programme has already awarded two contracts. The first contract, worth USD39 million, was awarded to Northrop Grumman in August 2016 to develop the beam-control system. Lt Brewer said Boeing and Lockheed Martin were awarded a contract to jointly develop the pod and integration structure.

Lt Brewer said the goal is to show that laser technology has matured to the point where the US Air Force (USAF) can incorporate it into a pod, place the pod on small tactical aircraft, and improve that aircraft's survivability by defeating a variety of aerial threats. He said the USAF does not want to simply blind sensors, it wants to use the laser to heat up a target to the point where it is defeated by potentially destroying the target's circuit boards, control fins, or control sections.

Lt Brewer said the USAF, in the past, had studied supersonic air flow, optics, and lasers propagating through turbulent air, but has never studied all three at once. He said the USAF has taken lessons learned from previous programmes, including testing an airborne laser on a Boeing 747 commercial airliner and an advanced tactical laser on a Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft, to design a system for supersonic speeds, which are objects traveling faster than the speed of sound.

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The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) developed Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) to improve future aircraft survivability and demonstrate self-protect capability of high-energy lasers against threats. (IHS Markit/Pat Host)The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) developed Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) to improve future aircraft survivability and demonstrate self-protect capability of high-energy lasers against threats. (IHS Markit/Pat Host)



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