The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has awarded Lockheed Martin the contract to design, develop, and industrialise the Laser Advancement for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE) component of its embryonic airborne Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) programme.
SHiELD is intended “to combine an agile, small, high-power laser system on a tactical aircraft to demonstrate an advanced self-defence capability to defend against [air-to-air and surface-to-air] missile threats and enhance survivability”. The AFRL intends to test the laser on a tactical fighter testbed platform by 2021 – the fighter type has not been disclosed.
The AFRL has split the SHiELD programme into three separate development contracts: a USD39 million contract, awarded to Northrop Grumman in August 2016, for the development and production of the SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects (STRAFE) – the beam control system which characterises the flight environment for atmospheric disturbances that could distort the laser beam, acquires and tracks incoming targets, determines an aim point for the laser, then ‘shapes’ and focuses the outgoing beam on the target; a USD90 million contract, awarded to Boeing in December 2016, for the Laser Pod Research & Development (LPRD) component – the LPRD contract provides for system integration into a pod, and integration of that pod onto an aircraft; and finally, the USD26.3 million contract, awarded to Lockheed Martin in early November for the development of the LANCE high-energy fibre laser.
Accordingly, LANCE, coupled with the STRAFE beam control system will be integrated into the LPRD pod, along with the systems required to operate it, which will then be integrated onto the tactical fighter testbed aircraft and subsequently trialled.
While the LPRD pod is ostensibly responsible for thermal management of the laser, the primary power source for the system will likely be derived from the host platform – although Lockheed Martin declined to detail specifics.
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