While the US Air Force is skating to integrate a laser for self-protection against air-to-air missiles into its combat aircraft, SOCOM is preparing to test a power laser on a new-generation C-130 Gunship. Will the AC-130J Ghostrider succeed the AC-130 Spectrum?
An onboard laser for the US Air Force
As part of the SHIELD (Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator) program, the US Air Force intends to prove its technological advance on the Russian and Chinese air forces by building an on-board laser on combat aircraft. Conceived as a self-protection system, its aim would be to destroy threatening short-range missiles. This study is being piloted by the AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory) with the assistance of Boeing for the nacelle, Northrop Grumman for the beam control and Lockheed Martin for the laser. The cost of the demonstrator would be $26.3 million.
Towards the end of the program?
Initially planned for 2021, the first test was postponed until 2024. While the effects of announcements have been multiplying since then when each of the components was delivered, the reality is more uncertain since the chief engineer in charge of the program has admitted his skepticism about the feasibility of building an airborne laser capable of destroying a highly maneuverable missile in flight. However, the technological advances acquired by this demonstrator could allow it to be capitalized on in the fight against UAVs, another major concern of the U.S. Air Force.
The AC-130J "Ghostrider" Special Forces missile
On the other hand, despite the complexity of directed energy weapons, the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) believes strongly in them and continues to experiment. Indeed, an AC-130J "Ghostrider" is experimenting with a 60 kilowatt gas-powered laser. Unlike the kinetic weapons used on the Spectrum (105 mm Bofors, 40 mm guns, etc.), the high-energy offensive laser would be capable of discreetly neutralizing enemy defensive weapons (pick-up truck equipped with a heavy machine gun, etc.), without explosion, noise or lightning that could alarm the sentries. A device that would also allow commandos to give them access to certain infrastructures before action (gates, access doors by targeting locks ...). The first demonstration will take place in 2022.
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