Lockheed Martin receives contract to develop laser weapons for US fighter jets

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US Air Force

    Lockheed Martin was awarded a $26.3 million contract to develop a laser weapon for US fighter jets. The US Air Force plans to test the weapon by 2021. The laser will be used for self-defense against ground-to-air and air-to-air weapons – and possibly more.

Lockheed Martin announced on Monday that it received a $26.3 million contract from the US Air Force to develop a high-energy laser weapon for US fighter jets.

The US Air Force Research Lab plans to test the laser on a fighter jet by 2021, according to a Lockheed Martin press statement.

The deal will be part of the AFRL’s Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator program, which has three subsystems: The beam-control system that directs the laser onto to the target, the pod that powers and cools the laser, and the actual laser.

Lockheed will develop the laser, while Northrop Grumman will develop the beam-control system and Boeing will develop the pod, according to UPI.

Lockheed, Northrop and Boeing are three of the largest defense contractors and political donors in the US.

It’s not clear at this time how the laser will be used, but Lockheed spokesperson Kate Scruggs told Business Insider that “the only thing that’s been said publicly is that it will be used for self-defense against ground-to-air and air-to-air weapons.”

The laser system mounted on the USS Ponce.

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The laser system mounted on the USS Ponce.
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John F. Williams/US Navy

The aircraft most likely to be armed with the laser, assuming it’s successfully tested and production continues, will be older fighters jets that are more vulnerable in the air – such as the F-15C, the F-15E Strike Eagle, and F-16 Fighting Falcon, according to Popular Mechanics.

It’s also not clear how powerful the laser will be, but Lockheed’s senior fellow of laser-weapons systems, Rob Afzal, told reporters on Tuesday that it would be in the “tens of kilowatts,” according to Defense News.

Laser weapons have become more reality than fiction in recent years.

In 2014, the Navy mounted and tested a laser on the USS Ponce. More recently, the US Army successfully tested a laser mounted on an Apache helicopter, and in August, Lockheed successfully shot down five drones with its new ATHENA laser system.