DARPA wants to put lasers on military jets


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ARLINGTON, Va. — Lasers are awesome. There's no doubt about it. Perhaps that's why the Reagan-era Star Wars program spent so much time trying to put them on anything and everything.

In that tradition, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, more commonly known as DARPA, has a new laser system they hope to be installing on jets and firing in tests by 2014.

There are two systems currently under development: HELLADS, an offensive, 150 kilowatt liquid-cooled laser that could be installed on a fighter jet or bomber and would be capable of shooting down missiles or other airborne attacks; the second, more defensive laser, called ABC, would be mounted facing backwards and would neutralize missile threats as well.

Both systems have undergone some field testing, but DARPA and the Navy have awarded a contract to Aeronautics Systems Incorporated to build another HELLADS laser. The Navy has shown interest in the system as a way of defending against threats from other ships. Video shows a Navy test-firing another high-energy laser against a small ship and disabling its engines in late 2012.

The Pentagon has experimented with plane-mounted lasers in the past, like the Airborne Laser Test Bed program which had a 747 carrying a megawatt liquid cooled laser. That system was scrapped, however, due to its size and impracticality.

HELLADS, on the other hand, is small enough to mount on a much smaller jet, but also powerful enough to take advantage of high-energy liquid-cooled laser systems.

Lockheed Martin has been awarded a contract to bring the ABC system into the real world over the next 30 months.

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David Self Newlin

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