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US Air Force successfully shot down missiles using a laser prototype

The Air Force Research Laboratory Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator Advanced Technology Demonstration Program successfully completed a major program milestone with the successful surrogate laser weapon system shoot down of multiple air-launched missiles in flight, on April 23.

US Air Force successfully shot down missiles using a laser prototype A picture of an F-35 Lightning II, on which such laser weapon could certainly be fitted (Picture Source: Lockheed Martin)

The SHiELD program is developing a directed energy laser system on an aircraft pod that will serve to demonstrate self-defence of aircraft against surface-to-air and air-to-air 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, AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate director.

During the series of tests at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility, the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System, 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 Air Force has some competition. The U.S. Army has tested an Apache AH-64 attack helicopter-mounted laser system, potentially offering new capabilities like destroying equipment and disabling light vehicles without the use of high explosives. They’ve also used lasers mounted on Humvee trucks to detonate improvised explosive devices from a distance. The Navy has also been developing its own systems to be mounted on warships, where they could potentially take on threats like missiles or small boats.