A 120 kilowatt tactical laser pod will be available for the U.S. military by 2020 officials confirmed late last week. The groundbreaking energy weaponry will be ready for operational use and will revolutionize military engagements as we know them.
Two of the U.S. military’s top most generals have confirmed that a tactical laser will be in use by the U.S. Air Force by 2020. Gen. Herbert Carlisle, head of the Air Force’s Air Service Command and Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold both confirmed the advancements in laser battle technology at the Air Force Association Air and Space Conference held in Washington last week.
Currently, the solid-state lasers are being developed ahead of their likely use by the Air Force Special Operations Command’s (AFSOC) AC-130W Whiskey gunships. Fighter delivered options will come much later.
Heithold told reporters the goal of the whole project was to field a laser generating 120 kw of raw power and mount it on fighter jets. He did not give specifics on the design or the procurement strategy.
Heithold said he did not plan on using the lasers to engage human targets. He explained that they would primarily be used on ground targets such as enemy hardware and armored vehicles.
Carlisle, on his part, envisions the lasers taking a more strategic route and only engaging designated targets through air campaigns. Carlisle said, “That will change the game. Imagine your ability to defeat an enemy surface-to-air capability with a directed energy weapon or to defend the homeland. I actually think it is a lot closer than a lot of people think it is.”
The generals acknowledged that laser beam control would pose a significant challenge especially over longer distances. Carlisle said, “We are making significant progress,” Carlisle said. “There are some technologies that have to do in how you handle the heat and the [size, weight and power] ... that allow us to do that in a much smaller space than we did in the past. It allows to get us to those peak powers.”
Wars in both Afghanistan and the Iraq have grown the military’s spending on both personnel and technological warfare development. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, U.S. Special Operations Command chief, recently pledged to raise spending of a designated $8 billion by three to five per cent. It is part of these funds, Votel said, that would go to the development of the laser gunships.
Lasers offer attractive potential because they promise endless magazine if energy is present. The advancement of laser technology will change air combat completely, so much so that it could mean winning a war even before it even began.