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U.S. Air Force successfully shoots multiple air-launched missiles in laser weapon test

Posted by Dylan Malyasov on


The Air Force Research Laboratory has announced successfully completed a major program milestone April 23, 2019 with the successful surrogate laser weapon system shoot down of multiple air launched missiles in flight.

According to the recent statement by AFRL, the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) Program downed the missiles using a ground-based laser demonstrator.

The SHiELD program is developing a directed energy laser system on an aircraft pod that will serve to demonstrate self-defense of aircraft against surface-to-air (SAM) and air-to-air (AAM) missiles.

“This critical demonstration shows that our directed energy systems are on track to be a game changer for our warfighters,” said Dr. Kelly Hammett, director of AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate.

During the series of tests at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range, the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS) (Figure 1), acting as a ground-based test surrogate for the SHiELD system, was able to engage and shoot down several air launched missiles in flight. The demonstration is an important step of the SHiELD system development, by validating laser effectiveness against the target missiles. The final SHiELD system, however, will be much smaller and lighter, as well as ruggedized for an airborne environment.

“The successful test is a big step ahead for directed energy systems and protection against adversarial threats,” said Maj. Gen. William Cooley, AFRL commander. “The ability to shoot down missiles with speed of light technology will enable air operation in denied environments. I am proud of the AFRL team advancing our Air Force’s directed energy capability.”

High Energy Laser technology has made significant gains in performance and maturity due to continued research and development by AFRL and others in the science and technology ecosystem.  It is considered to be a game changing technology that will bring new capabilities to the warfighter.

The goal of the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator Advanced Technology Demonstrator (SHiELD), is to combine an agile, small, high-power laser system on a tactical aircraft to demonstrate an advanced self-defense capability to defend against missile threats and enhance survivability.

Aircraft have been working to maintain air superiority since aircraft were invented and Air Force tactical aircraft have been trying to shoot down aircraft since then, so there’s an ever-present need to improve the survivability of airframes. In that interest, Air Force scientists are trying to supplement the defensive measures that aircraft already have such as flares and chaff. With SHiELD, they will have active laser systems.

The Air Force’s science and technology communities are actively researching various laser technologies to determine their offensive and defensive capabilities and ensure they meet the operational standards required by the service’s airframes.

Past research focused on chemical lasers, which have been successfully demonstrated as ground defense systems and on the Airborne Laser System. Today’s research has moved away from chemically driven lasers to solid-state lasers.

The U.S. Air Force’s broad timeline for laser weapon development, as of 2013.

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