The company hopes to have the weapons tested and battlefield ready by 2021. "The development of high power laser systems like SHiELD shows laser weapon system technologies are becoming real". The new project, known as Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE), draws on past developments, including the ATHENA system, the ALADIN laser, and programs like the U.S. Army's Robust Electric Laser Initiative (RELI). The contract is part of AFRL's Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program, and is a major step forward in the maturation of protective airborne laser systems.
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The defense contractor's product will work in conjunction with a beam-control system developed by Northrop Grumman and a pod created by Boeing, UPI reported. Maryland-based Lockheed announced this week that it will provide the Air Force Research Lab with a testable Compact Airborne High Energy Laser by 2021.
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In March, Lockheed delivered a 60 kilowatt-class laser that can be installed on military trucks like the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) - the largest vehicle in the US Army inventory.
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The move comes after a series of successful tests with similar systems in ground-based platforms - but, the experts say developing a laser for a smaller, airborne design will be a challenge. "It's exciting to see this technology mature enough to embed in an aircraft", said Afzal. When asked whether LANCE could take down missiles in the boost phase, Afzal responded that mission requires a higher power and longer range. The fighter jet, which will eventually carry the laser weapon, is also unknown.