Laser Fighters: 100 kW Weapons By 2022

Redheart

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Laser Fighters: 100 kW Weapons By 2022 « Breaking Defense - Defense industry news, analysis and commentary

The US Air Force wants to fire a 100-plus-kilowatt laser from a small plane. And not just any airplane, Air Force Research Laboratory officials. The last laser on an airplane — the megawatt Airborne Laser, which filled a converted 747 and cancelled in 2011 — the 2022 demonstration will be fired from a fighter.

What can 100-plus kilowatts kill? Hardy was cagey about specific targets, but a study from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments suggests that it could destroy enemy cruise missiles, drones, and even manned aircraft at significant ranges.

“A 150-200 kW laser could be capable against surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles,” said CSBA’s Mark Gunzinger, the report’s author. And against manned aircraft? “Quite probably,” he said, “especially at altitude where the air is thinner.”

Maj. Gen. Masiello explicitly brought up lasers as potential replacements for air-to-air missiles. “The ultimate almost unlimited magazine is provided with directed energy[:]One laser shot we estimate would take about a liter of fuel,” he said, “but that’s a ways off.”

“Missile defense is our biggest interest,” Hardy told me, just as it is for the Navy and Army laser programs. “But we’re also interested in the offensive capability they provide, because…as long as you have jet fuel that can be converted into electricity to feed the laser, I can keep firing the weapon.”

A typical modern fighter like the F-16 can carry at most six air-to-air missiles. Shoot six times, hit or miss, and it’s back to base to re-arm. By contrast, said Gunzinger, a laser-armed aircraft could just head back to the tanker. “Instead of landing to reload, air refueling would ‘reload’ [laser]-equipped aircraft in flight,” he said. They could keep fighting until the pilot couldn’t take it any more — or, if unmanned, for longer than any human could endure.
 
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Laser Fighters: 100 kW Weapons By 2022 « Breaking Defense - Defense industry news, analysis and commentary

The US Air Force wants to fire a 100-plus-kilowatt laser from a small plane. And not just any airplane, Air Force Research Laboratory officials. The last laser on an airplane — the megawatt Airborne Laser, which filled a converted 747 and cancelled in 2011 — the 2022 demonstration will be fired from a fighter.

What can 100-plus kilowatts kill? Hardy was cagey about specific targets, but a study from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments suggests that it could destroy enemy cruise missiles, drones, and even manned aircraft at significant ranges.

“A 150-200 kW laser could be capable against surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles,” said CSBA’s Mark Gunzinger, the report’s author. And against manned aircraft? “Quite probably,” he said, “especially at altitude where the air is thinner.”

Maj. Gen. Masiello explicitly brought up lasers as potential replacements for air-to-air missiles. “The ultimate almost unlimited magazine is provided with directed energy[:]One laser shot we estimate would take about a liter of fuel,” he said, “but that’s a ways off.”

“Missile defense is our biggest interest,” Hardy told me, just as it is for the Navy and Army laser programs. “But we’re also interested in the offensive capability they provide, because…as long as you have jet fuel that can be converted into electricity to feed the laser, I can keep firing the weapon.”

A typical modern fighter like the F-16 can carry at most six air-to-air missiles. Shoot six times, hit or miss, and it’s back to base to re-arm. By contrast, said Gunzinger, a laser-armed aircraft could just head back to the tanker. “Instead of landing to reload, air refueling would ‘reload’ [laser]-equipped aircraft in flight,” he said. They could keep fighting until the pilot couldn’t take it any more — or, if unmanned, for longer than any human could endure.
The lasers I am familiar with of this size do not convert the fuel into electricity, but use it to create the plasma which provides the photons to power the laser process. That said, the laser system would have all the above mentioned advantages.

The real question, of course, is not how many watts, but rather, how many watt-seconds . I assume these lasers produce 100 kw for some continuous period of time. Also, how concentrated is the beam? A 100 kw beam 1 millimeter in diameter is more useful than one 4 inches in diameter. Would you rather be shot with a high power 22 round or a 6 inch water balloon with the same power?
 
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Going to be a long time before this is being used as an air-to-air weapon, simply because of the distances involved. I do think that lasers will become sort of an auto-defence tool for fighters and bombers, shooting down incoming missiles. Of course the same technology can also be utilised for all sorts of things, such as buildings, ships and vehicles.
 

Redheart

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The real question, of course, is not how many watts, but rather, how many watt-seconds . I assume these lasers produce 100 kw for some continuous period of time. Also, how concentrated is the beam? A 100 kw beam 1 millimeter in diameter is more useful than one 4 inches in diameter. Would you rather be shot with a high power 22 round or a 6 inch water balloon with the same power?
I'd prefer the .22 round any day.

Question though is how effective will these lasers [mounted on Fighters] be against an enemy whose air defense is great? Wouldn't the planes be shot down before any damage is inflicted on the enemy?

While in theory lasers may sound like great weapons, practically, I think unless governments are willing to militarize space so lasers can be fired from space, lasers, regardless of how powerful they are, won't feature in any major conflict in the near future. Maybe I'm wrong . . .

Lasers can be great in aerial combat.
 

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I'd prefer the .22 round any day.
Lasers can be great in aerial combat.
When the Americans first got their hands on a Soviet fighter they where laughing since the Russian fighters still used solid state technology like tubes. They assumed the Russians did not know how to manufacture transistors properly. Then around 10 years later, the Americans figured out that electronic magnetic pulses fry electronics. That meant a Russian fighter could probably operate after a total nuclear war, while the American ones would be useless metal.

We can not create electro magnetic pulses artificially, how well will all of these fancy gadgets work after they have been fried by an EM shock wave ?
 
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