The name of the laser system has not been mentioned, however, in 2017, the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) awarded Lockheed Martin a contract for the design, development and production of a high power fiber laser, as part of the Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program to protect aircraft from air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.
In the press release for the contract award, SHiELD is mentioned as including three subsystems:
- SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects (STRAFE): the beam control system, which will direct the laser onto the target;
- Laser Pod Research & Development (LPRD): the pod mounted on the tactical fighter jet, which will power and cool the laser;
- Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE): the high energy laser itself, which can be trained on adversary targets to disable them.
The SHiELD pod was to be tested in 2021, however DefenseNews reported that the test will be delayed to 2023 due to technical challenges and complications that followed the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Jeff Heggemeier, SHiELD program manager for AFRL. Adding to this, then Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin was quoted as saying: “I’m extremely skeptical that we can put a large laser on an aircraft and use it to shoot down an adversary missile even from very close.” It is not completely clear if Griffin was referring to a specific system, which most probably could be some anti-ballistic missile defense system, however this raised some concerns.
As of now, we don’t know officially on which aircraft the AFRL will test the SHiELD pod, however AirForceMagazine reported last year that the defensive laser system may be demonstrated on the F-15, while Lockheed Martin showed the pod on the F-16C and C-130J-series aircraft. An older rendering showed the pod also on the F-16V Block70.