Saturday, September 19, 2015

Dawn of Laser Weapons in Air Force

You know Star Wars. You know Lightsabers. 

Lightsabers are the fictional energy weapons used in Star Wars universe. Those laser swords are insanely awesome. I am hoping to hold one in this technology-marvel era. 

With that being said, US Air Force is funding for a laser weapons system that is to be mounted on the AC-130 "GhostRider" that can neutralize threats using energy beams by 2020. Hell Ya Air Force! 

The tender is being initiated by Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). The requirement is to have a system that weigh less than 2,286 kg (5,000 lbs) and occupy a space no greater than one gun position on the latest AC-130J "Ghostrider" gunship. (Ref: Flightglobal)

The surprising fact is that the development for this project began in 1970's - by Soviet / Russian Air Force.

An Ilyushin Il-76MD aircraft was modified to develop airborne laser technology with small success.The program was re-activated in 2009, and is currently under development. 

In American soil, the origins began  from  Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. It was basically a low powered laser laboratory to explore the potential of laser weapons. It made very less impact.

The real change came with a retired Air India 747-200 aircraft. This aircraft was acquired by US Air Force for the development of airborne laser system in 1996. By 2001, it was re-named to Boeing YAL-1. 

This project was being handled by major weapons developer; together. Boeing Defense, Space & Security provides the aircraft, the management team and the systems integration processes. Northrop Grumman was supplying the chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL), and Lockheed Martin was supplying the nose turret and the fire control system. (Ref: Wikipedia).

It was basically a flying laser. It was very primitive. After $5 billion dollars and a decade later, the Air Force cancelled the project. They concluded that it was too costly to operate and inefficient. 

It may be costly with airliner aircraft operating at 40,000ft. But with the rise of unmanned aerial vehicles, the operating cost can be brought down.

One of the major expense was with the COIL itself which used chemicals which needed physical reloading of oxygen iodine. Now the systems are electric based where energy is derived from fuel. 

When unmanned aerial vehicle system and electric laser technology is integrated, a new frontier for laser based weapons become possible. 

With Boeing Yal- 1, the weapons developers -  having gathered a ton of data and learning a lot along the way -  began to develop systems of their own. 

Lockheed Martin developed ATHENA (Advanced Test High Energy Asset).

Boeing Developed range of Laser systems under Directed Energy. Here is a video from Boeing:

This technology has its fair share of history. Like every great technological advancement, it took time, talent and sweat to make it happen.

Air Force always were the pioneers at great technologies. Military funding has done many improvements even in our daily life. 

Titanium is a material being used in aviation industry. It's quite common now. SR-71 Blackbird made it happen.

Composite Materials play a great role in making aircraft efficient. They are quite common now. B-2 Spirit made it happen.

In 20 years we will be saying, " Lightsabers are common now. Boeing Yal-1 made it happen".

Thank You for reading guys.


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