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Tactical High-Energy Laser Utility Study (THELUS)

The Air Force Research Laboratory [AFRL] is testing new directed energy weapon (DEW) technology in a virtual computer simulation environment. Scientists are testing the DEW technology without the expense or safety precautions that result from building the weapon and testing it in a real-life situation. Computer simulation eliminates the need to build the weapon and incorporate it into an existing airframe; therefore, AFRL can greatly reduce expenses and eliminate danger that might result from working with powerful lasers in the real world.

In an effort to investigate the effect of a high-energy laser in air-to-air combat, in 2006 AFRL performed a Tactical High-Energy Laser Utility Study (THELUS) in a virtual simulation environment. As a follow-on to a previous test, AFRL scientists performed simulated tests of air-to-air engagement involving two aircraft versus four. For the test effort, six tactically rated pilots divided into two teams: red and blue. To acquire baseline data, the researchers first provided both teams with identical weapons and sensors; they later modified the blue team configuration to include the directed energy weapon (DEW), while the red team retained its conventional weaponry.

In order to determine the DEW's effects on the mission, the researchers altered two distinct characteristics of the DEW throughout the test scenarios, changing the maximum sensor range (which determines how far pilots can see with the DEW) and the thermal budget (which determines how long pilots can fire continuously). The testing determined both survivability and mission success under the altered conditions. Pilots using the DEW were able to survive longer despite altered conditions. Furthermore, DEW utilization resulted in a greater probability of at least one pilot surviving the mission.

AFRL demonstrated a computer model of a DEW-equipped tactical aircraft operating in a simulation environment. The laboratorys Tactical High-Energy Laser Utility Study team integrated the DEW model into a simulation environment and evaluated the DEWs ability to destroy incoming threats. Engineers created the DEW model using technology and documentation supplied by AFRL and other government and nongovernment sources.

AFRLs simulation environment comprises an advanced suite of simulation tools that simulate a real-time, virtual environment. AFRL plans to evolve the simulation so that pilots can interact and manually target threats. Eventually, pilots will manually fly in a simulated engagement of two aircraft against four aircraft.

After conducting an initial engagement utilizing only conventional weapons, engineers will conduct a final combat simulation in which the two-aircraft team will be outfitted with DEWs, and the four-aircraft team will retain its conventional weapons. This engagement will better assess the DEWs performance against conventionally equipped aircraft.

AFRL is working to improve the simulation, developing new display and control mechanisms to help pilots use the DEW to target threats, while developing power and thermal management subsystems for the aircraft model.




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