AFRL contracts Northrop to develop laser beam control system for USAF aircraft


Northrop Grumman will help the US Air Force (USAF) to develop a directed energy laser system that will offer self-protection for its next-generation jets.

The work, which would be carried out as part of an Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) contract awarded in 23 August this year, will see Northrop develop and produce the beam control platform of an airborne laser weapon demonstration system.

AFRL is developing the system under its self-protect high-energy laser demonstrator (SHiELD) advanced technology demonstration (ATD) programme.

The laser weapon will be housed in a pod that is attached to a fighter-sized jet.

Northrop will test the system on a tactical aircraft flying at speeds up to supersonic.

AFRL expects that the flight testing of the integrated system will begin by 2019.

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems directed energy vice president Mark Skinner said: “Our Northrop Grumman-led team is integrating an innovative beam director with proven beam control technologies to help the Air Force define and successfully demonstrate a laser weapon capability for current and next generation aircraft.”

Skinner added that the SHiELD beam control system, which is being developed by the company, mitigates atmospheric disturbances that could distort the laser beam.

"AFRL is developing the system under its self-protect high-energy laser demonstrator (SHiELD) advanced technology demonstration (ATD) programme."

It will also acquire and track incoming targets, determine the aim point for the laser and then shape and focus the outgoing beam on the target.

The beam control system is being developed by Northrop under a segment of the ATD programme known as SHiELD Turret Research in Aero Effects (STRAFE).

The STRAFE beam control system will be integrated by AFRL with a laser source, and power and cooling systems developed for the ATD.


Image: A rendering of the self-protection laser system at work. Photo: courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corporation.