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Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD)

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.

This program, unlike other lasers, might actually produce something useful:

  1. they seem to have a low weight high power beam generator
  2. at high altitude, they don't have to worry so much about atmospheric crud
  3. the incoming air-to-air missile is pretty fragile
  4. it is easier to damage the seeker front end than to melt the whole missile
  5. the sky is empty, so the only objects the radar is tracking are targets [ie, no decoys]

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 theres an ever-present need to improve the survivability of airframes. In that interest, we are trying to supplement the defensive measures that aircraft already have such as flares and chaff. With SHiELD, they will have active laser systems.

To broaden the force's capabilities, the next advancement may be a laser-equipped aircraft, which could provide an entirely new realm of capabilities to meet the Air Force mission to fly, fight, and win. 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.

"Chemical lasers are very large and have a lot of logistical issues," said Dr. Thomas Spencer, Air Combat Command assistant chief scientist. "Solid-state lasers are basically electric lasers. These lasers use solid-state materials as the lazing medium, the most recognizable being fiber optic cables. What's best about solid-state lasers is that essentially as long as you have jet fuel, you can use the laser." Spencer said laser-based weapons have the potential to provide important capabilities to the warfighter, including rapid air-to-air and air-to-ground defense, virtually bottomless magazines, and relatively cheap ammunition.

"As we expand technology, laser weapons are the next logical step," said U.S. Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command. "If you have a laser, you're operating at the speed of light, which means you can do a lot more to an adversary in a much shorter period of time. It gives you more time to react and make decisions while minimizing your adversary's potential ability to counter it."

Laser-weapon pods could be available to mount on existing fighter aircrafts in the near future. Carlisle added that testing for these pods has already begun. "There's a test where we're trying to put it in a pod which might go on an F-15," said Carlisle. "I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll see a prototype test case in the next year or two. It's an incredible capability and it's in the realm of the possible."

Spencer said other options include putting the laser aboard larger aircraft to protect against surface-to-air missiles; or putting one on a remotely piloted aircraft to provide additional protection. "I think [laser-equipped aircrafts] will enhance our ability to provide theater air power," said Carlisle. "Our [relative] position in the joint fight in air and space won't change, but our capabilities will significantly increase and we'll do it better than anybody in the world."

Because enemy aircraft and missiles can come from anywhere, a laser weapon system on a military aircraft will need to be able to fire in any direction. However, the laws of physics say that a laser only can engage targets in front of an aircraft that is travelling close to the speed of sound unless atmospheric turbulence can be counteracted. Thats exactly what Lockheed Martin has done in developing a prototype laser turret for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), paving the way for laser weapon systems on tactical aircraft.

The Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control (ABC) turret was the first turret ever to demonstrate a 360-degree field of regard for laser weapon systems on an aircraft flying near the speed of sound. Its performance has been verified in nearly 60 flight tests conducted in 2014 and 2015 using a business jet as a low-cost flying test bed. As the aircraft travelled at jet cruise speeds, a low-power laser beam was fired through the turrets optical window to measure and verify successful performance in all directions.

The design uses the latest aerodynamic and flow-control technology to minimize the impacts of turbulence on a laser beam. An optical compensation system, which uses deformable mirrors, then is used to ensure that the beam can get through the atmosphere to the target. Left unchecked, turbulence would scatter the light particles that make up a laser beam, much like fog diffuses a flashlight beam.

This advanced turret design will enable tactical aircraft to have the same laser weapon system advantages as ground vehicles and ships, said Doug Graham, vice president of missile systems and advanced programs, Strategic and Missile Defense Systems, Lockheed Martin Space Systems. This is an example of how Lockheed Martin is using a variety of innovative technologies to transform laser devices into integrated weapon systems.

In 2016, the US Air Force ordered the development of a laser protection system for fighters from Northrop Grumman. According to portal flightglobal.com, combat lasers for aircraft will also be developed by Lockheed Martin. Within the framework of the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program for fighters of the US Air Force, it is planned to create a laser system capable of destroying missiles in the air. The US Air Force Research Laboratory has signed a development contract with Northrop Grumman.

  1. - they seem to have a low weight high power beam generator
  2. - at high altitude, they don't have to worry so much about atmospheric crud
  3. - the incoming air-to-air missile is pretty fragile
  4. - it is easier to damage the seeker front end than to melt the whole missile
  5. - the sky is empty, so the only objects the radar is tracking are targets [ie, no decoys]

The target weight for a podded solution on a fighter is less than 1500 lbs. AFRL assesses that a defensive LWS that weighs less than 5000 lbs. is feasible. The cost of the work is estimated at $ 39.3 million, the deadline for fulfilling the order is September 2021. The contract with Lockheed Martin is estimated at $ 26.3 million.Representatives of Lockheed Martin say that the corporation has already accumulated sufficient experience with laser systems to create laser protection for combat aircraft.

The installation will consist of three key elements: an aiming, cooling and powering system, as well as a solid-state laser.Modern technologies allow fighters to evade missiles fired on them, using electronic warfare systems or heat traps. The command of the US Air Force considers these methods of "self-defense" inadequate and plans to equip combat aircraft with systems that will not "deceive" but destroy missiles at a safe distance, hitting them with a laser beam.

It is planned to install SHiELD on the fourth-generation fighters, in particular, McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and Lockheed Martin 16 Fighting Falcon. In this case, the fifth generation Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II aircraft are not yet planned to be equipped with additional protection systems, since the suspension modules increase their radar visibility, reports "Warspot"

The Department of Defense (DoD) invests research and development (R&D) dollars into directed energy solutions to fill gaps identified by warfighters. Currently, the Air Force is pursuing laser weapons systems (LWS) along with high powered electromagnetics (HPEM) to enable operations in a possible future battlespace involving a technologically advanced adversary.

The Air Forces past airborne laser demonstrations pushed the art-of-the possible, providing an appreciation both for the unique operational capabilities of an airborne LWS and for the formidable technical challenges that remain to be overcome. Due to the sub- and transonic air speeds of maneuvering tactical aircraft such as fighter planes in conjunction with tight packaging constraints, these obstacles are far greater for aerial vehicles than for ground-based systems. Naturally, these mutually interdependent challenges must be addressed concurrently before an LWS can be integrated into an aerial vehicle.

A variety of obstacles impede the utilization of an airborne laser weapon system, several of which have been identified as being most crucial to its success or failure. Most fundamentally, it is essential to maximize laser power while reducing volume and mass, maintaining a size, weight, and power (SWaP) that offers tactical effectiveness. Moreover, beam control systems must be adequately advanced so as to enable precise aiming, tracking, and pointing amidst the aero-mechanical jitter induced by vibrations during flight. Similarly, system temperature must be controlled via the dissipation of waste heat, and high-speed aerodynamic flow must be mitigated to avoid aero-optical disturbances.

Should any of these elements be allowed to dominate, the laser beam can disperse, losing its precision and effectiveness at operational ranges. Finally, it is important to note that a laser system is a complex piece of technology, which must be ruggedized into a compact package capable of surviving a battlefield environment.

In the face of these multiple technical difficulties, AFRL plans to build on past demonstrations and advancements to sponsor a staged approach to address and reduce technology risks. Initially, the focus was on the development of subsystem technologies, making certain that each component of the greater whole can meet the requirements of the operational Air Force. A flight demonstration with a low-power laser will prove that targets can be tracked at sufficient range and speed to allow for engagement with a laser beam, demonstrating effective mitigation of aerodynamic disturbances. Successful completion of this demonstration will lead to the graduated progression of ground and flight tests for laser weapon systems offering medium-power for tactical operations.

The continuing development and eventual deployment of high-power laser systems has the potential to diminish operational risk, create improved warfighting options, and enable new courses of action for military leadership. These airborne demonstrations mark the first AFRL sponsored laser weapon flight program in more than 30 years and are in direct response to the importance placed by senior Air Force leadership on rapidly maturing these systems for operational use.

Laser weapons can deliver precise and scalable effects against a wide class of targets nearinstantaneously and at a very low cost per shot. For example, the type of gradual effects a 30kW laser can deliver includes the denial, degradation, disruption, and destruction of a range of targets from UAS to small boats at a range of several kilometers. More powerful lasers have counter-air, counter-ground, and counter-sea applications against a host of hardened military equipment and vehicles at significant range.

Due to the complex logistical chain of chemical lasers, electrically-driven solid-state lasers have become the medium of choice for the modern LWS. These lasers have few moving mechanical parts and consume only electricity, rather than hazardous and caustic chemicals. As such, solidstate lasers are a fraction of the size of chemical lasers, and their weight per power (kg/kW) is about 30 times less, allowing for great savings in space for electric lasers. Beyond considerations of size, solid-state lasers offer a host of advantages.

Electric lasers have a nearly infinite magazine size as long as an appropriate power supply is available. As such, the total number of shots they can fire is limited only by the fuel available to drive the electrical power source, provided naturally via the operation of the aircraft. Generally, banks of batteries are employed for this purpose and can be sized to meet the requirements for virtually any laser power and magazine depth. For a 30 kW laser system, the batteries could weigh on the order of 300 pounds and fit within a volume of half of a cubic meter. Since they are constantly powered reloaded by recharging their electrical power supply, an LWS can engage multiple targets very quickly and is limited for the most part only by its ability to dissipate waste heat. Effective thermal management systems can drastically increase the rate of fire, either through traditional liquid cooling loops or through two-phase cooling, wherein heat is transferred to and melts a solid, the resulting liquid of which is then cooled.

Functionally, the range of an LWS is dictated by laser power, beam quality, aero-optical and aeromechanical disturbances, and beam control design. Weather and atmospheric conditions can also serve to limit effective range.

AFRL has two major integration and demonstration programs at the moment: the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) and the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS). The former addresses the risk of integrating a LWS onto an aerial platform, while the latter demonstrates the effect of a fully integrated ground-based LWS against representative targets.

The SHiELD Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) is a two-phased effort to showcase the ability of a podded laser system. The program will develop and integrate a more compact, medium-power LWS onto a fighter-compatible pod to demonstrate effectiveness of a LWS in a relevant flight environment for self-defense against ground-to-air and airto-air weapons. The purpose of the SHiELD ATD is to reduce and retire the risk of an airborne LWS in a calculated and precise fashion, meeting and resolving the aforementioned technical challenges of power-scaling, beam quality, thermal management, and packaging.

In its first phase, the flight demonstration is expected to prove that targets can be tracked at sufficient range and speed to subsequently engage with a laser. In the next phase, a moderate-power laser will be incorporated to assess the performance of the LWS in an operationally relevant environment. Flight tests should occur in the FY20 timeframe.




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