Laser warfare in the sky could become a reality sooner than you think. The U.S. Navy has already deployed a laser weapon system aboard the USS Ponce that can attack and destroy small boats, drones, and light aircraft. And now the U.S. Air Force is confident of gaining laser warfare capabilities within the next five years.
Laser warfare systems to have a lower ‘cost per shot’
Air Force General Hawk Carlisle said at the Air Force Association Air & Space conference that directed energy pods could be put on the U.S. fighter jets “very soon.” These armaments of the “fifth-generation warfare” can burn combat aircraft, missiles, and drones clean out of the sky. At the event, General Atomics demonstrated a system that could be mounted on UAVs like Predator and Reaper.
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General Hawk Carlisle told Ars Technica that the Air Force was looking for something like a laser cannon that could be mounted on fighter aircraft. Laser weapons can destroy enemy targets at a much lower “cost per shot” compared to missiles and guns. General Atomics’ 150kW HELLADS system is the frontrunner for the U.S. Air Force contract.
HELLADS could easily fit onto a Predator drone
General Atomics is developing the futuristic laser system in collaboration with DARPA. The system is currently going through ground-based testing. The USAF is confident that HELLADS could result in a field-ready laser warfare system by 2020. The third generation HELLADS prototype is small enough to fit onto a Predator drone. The system will go through several field tests against missiles, UAVs, rockets, mortars, and fighter planes.
Besides laser warfare, the USAF is looking to gain cyber warfare capabilities as part of the future combat approach. Gen. Carlisle said denying the enemy aircraft the ability to take off will change the game. The Air Force is looking at systems to conduct cyber attacks on enemy’s networks from flying jets. A UAV or a manned aircraft could confuse or disrupt the enemy systems by attacking into radio and wireless networks.