JED - January 2016 - (Page 20)

On the Brink: Laser Wars T By John Haystead The Journal of Electronic Defense | January 2016 20 The debut of the latest "Star Wars" epic depicting high-speed, tactical battlecraft fighting it out with high-energy laser weaponry is perhaps the latest illustration of the potential for science reality to overtake science fiction. In fact, the technology currently exists to make tactical combat aircraft equipped with high energy lasers (HELs) a reality. The question of if, and/or when, this happens is really only dependent on whether the Services, and therefore the DOD, are sufficiently interested to fund further development and deployment of the capability. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) (Wright Patterson AFB, OH), have been working jointly for some time to develop a laser-based countermeasure system capable of protecting tactical aircraft by damaging or destroying surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. The goal of the High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) program was to produce an HEL system capable of generating 150 kilowatts (kW) of laser power in a package weighing five kilograms per kilowatt and a volume of three cubic meters for the laser system, making it possible to be integrated onto tactical aircraft and significantly increasing engagement ranges compared to groundbased systems. The system is ten times smaller and lighter than earlier lasers of similar power. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) (San Diego, CA) is the developer of the HELLADS laser technology, with Lockheed Martin Space Systems (Sunnyvale, CA) serving as overall system integrator of the Laser Weapon System Module (LWSM) as well as developing an associated Aero-Adaptive, Aero-Optic Beam Control (ABC) HEL targeting and tracking system through a separate DARPA contract. General Atomics has already successfully demonstrated sufficient power and beam quality for the HELLADS laser using a prototype laboratory-level system. Having completed the test series, the laser was delivered to the Air Force for integration into the ground-based Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS) in July of last year. The DLWS will begin live-fire field trials at White Sands Missile Range (White Sands, NM) early in 2016 where it will be evaluated for efficacy against a range of threats, including rockets, mortars, air vehicles and surrogate SAMs, as well as counter-air applications. DARPA was responsible for developing the first-generation (Gen 1) HELLADS laser technology. AFRL is supplying the beam director to be used for the tests, and it has assumed responsibility for the DLWS live-fire testing. Dr. David Shaver, HELLADS Program Manager in DARPA's Strategic Technology Office (STO) says, "Ultimately, the program goal is to make the system available to the military Services for further refinement, testing or transition to operational use." As described by Dr. Michael Perry, GA-ASI Vice president of Laser and Electro-Optic Systems, the HELLADS laser "is really a hybrid laser technology, combining liquid laser and electrically pumped, solid-state laser technology, where the solid-state laser is intimately mixed with the coolant to provide high heat-transfer efficiency. Together, you have all the virtues of a solid-state laser together with the cooling efficiency of a liquid laser." Perry notes that, as opposed to fiber laser-based systems, which use a series of low-power lasers (all on the order of a kW) that are combined into a single beam to get to the 100 kW laser class, his company's approach uses a single laser/single beam to produces the full 100 kW without beam combining. With regard to the comparative potential to scale to much higher power levels, Perry agrees that multiple units of their laser could also conceivably be combined into a single beam, but points out that their system "actually scales very differently than fiber lasers. Just as it's very difficult to scale fiber lasers beyond the 100kW class, it's very difficult to combine multiple beams of our laser beyond more than 2-4 beams. But, our system inherently scales much easier to the higher power, so we would not scale 100s together, but rather increase the power of the single aperture to up to a few hundred kilowatts and then potentially combine a small number of beams." While the HELLADS laser currently under test is a first-generation system, General Atomics has continued to advance the technology. Its third-generation (Gen 3) HEL system completed beam quality and power measurement tests in April 2015. The Gen 3 laser features a number of upgrades, including improved beam quality, increased electrical-tooptical efficiency and reduced size and weight. The Gen 3 laser head assembly measures 4.3 × 1.3 × 1.6 feet, and is powered by a compact Lithium-ion battery. The complete weapon system including power pack, thermal-management system and beam director assembly, is sized in the range of 12 x 4.3 x 2 feet. According to Perry, although incorporation of the later generation technology into the ongoing HELLADS DLWS testing effort is being considered by the Air Force, no decision has been made to this point. "Although later generations have greatly improved the electro-optic (EO) and beam-quality performance, the core technology is still that developed for HELLADS. The focus right now is on shooting targets using the current HELLADS, and although the Air Force is intimately knowledgeable of the Gen 3 system and they are very interested in its capabilities, whether it will be brought into the current testing at White Sands in some way, is not a decision that will be made until later in 2016." One concept the company is looking at for the Gen 3 system is deployment

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of JED - January 2016

The View From Here
Conferences Calendar
Courses Calendar
From the President
The Monitor
World Report
On the Brink: Laser Wars Not Just a Movie Fantasy
Light Saber – LaWS Prototype Brings Directed Energy Onto the Front-Line
Technology Survey: RF Signal Generators
Threat Monitor
EW 101
AOC News: Views from the AOC Symposium and Convention
AOC News
Index of Advertisers
JED Quick Look

JED - January 2016

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