Laser weapons have long been a staple of science fiction, from the phasers of Star Trek to the blasters of Star Wars. Since their first (fictional) appearances many have dreamed of creating real life laser weapons. This started with the US’s ultimately unsuccessful Strategic Defense Initiative, and continued with other ‘white elephant’ projects, like the Boeing 747 Airborne Laser Testbed.
Now however, rapid improvements in the technology of solid state lasers is allowing lasers to be produced with a combination of high power, small size, and low cost, and this is resulting in an explosion of new military research into lasers. At the forefront of this research is Lockheed Martin’s Aero-optic Beam Control (ABC) Laser, which is now being deployed for the first time aboard an aircraft.
The ABC Laser takes the form of a turret which can be fixed to an aircraft, packing a powerful solid state laser able to engage targets within a complete 360 degree field of view. The first test version of the this turret is set to fly aboard and old Dassault Falcon 10 business jet. The system itself features software allowing it to actively compensate for air turbulence which would otherwise distort the laser beam, and cause it to miss its target.
In active combat the ABC system could be used to give the plane an extra level of protection against incoming missiles. Once detected by the jet’s radar, the missile would be targeted by the laser turret and then rapidly destroyed by the laser, before it gets close enough to harm the aircraft. This would result in a craft which would be all but impervious to regular anti-aircraft missiles, and could fly unmolested over even the most hostile terrain.
This laser system, if successful, has the potential to change air combat doctrine completely in less than a decade. Anti-aircraft missile defense would rapidly find itself obsolete, and low tech armies would be put at a massive disadvantage. High tech opponents would be forced to resort to other more innovative ways of shooting down aircraft, possible even utilising lasers in an offensive role as well, something which will also change the role of military aircraft into the future.
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