Lockheed Martin revealed that it delivered a compact directed energy weapon to the US Air Force Research Lab in February, a key milestone in the service’s effort to equip a tactical fighter jet with a laser capable of shooting down anti-aircraft missiles. It is the smallest, lightest, high energy laser of its power class that Lockheed Martin has built to date. It is a critical benchmark in developing an operational laser weapon system in the airborne domain. The Defense Post reported that the Pentagon has pushed forward a number of different directed energy weapons in recent years, the value of this one, dubbed LANCE, is its minimal space, weight and power requirements. “It’s one-sixth the size of what we produced for the Army going back to just 2017.
The U.S. Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) awarded Lockheed Martin $26.3 million for the design, development and production of a high power fiber laser. The LANCE acronym stands for “Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments”. Lockheed got the initial contract to design, develop and produce LANCE in November 2017 as part of the Air Force’s Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program. That effort has three components: in addition to LANCE, there is a beam control system, built by Northrop Grumman, which directs the laser on its target, as well as a pod that is mounted on the aircraft. Boeing is responsible for that pod subsystem, which the Air Force said it received in February 2021.
<ul>LANCE is designed to operate in a compact environment, and as such, the Lockheed Martin team focused on developing a compact, high efficiency laser within challenging size, weight and power constraints. The SHiELD program includes three subsystems: <li>SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects (STRAFE), the beam control system, which will direct the laser onto the target</li> <li>Laser Pod Research & Development (LPRD), the pod mounted on the tactical fighter jet, which will power and cool the laser</li> <li>Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE), the high energy laser itself, which can be trained on adversary targets to disable them</li>
The subsystems delivered under SHiELD represent the most compact and capable laser weapon technologies delivered to date. Mission utility analyses and wargaming studies are ongoing, and will help determine how these subsystems and/or an integrated laser weapon system might potentially be used. Specific targets for future tests and demonstrations will be determined by the results of these studies as well. With the laser delivered to the Air Force, Griffin said the next step will be to start integrating the weapon itself with the thermal system that manages LANCE’s heating and cooling. The service has not made any final decisions for follow-on activities. A variety of potential applications and platforms are being considered for potential demonstrations and tests, in partnership with warfighter stakeholders.