Lasers have been a mainstay of sci-fi battles for decades. But making them practical for the battlefield has proven difficult. Now, private contractors and government agencies have developed weapons systems that are making science fiction a reality. This was made evident when Lockheed Martin and the US Army recently announced, a successful test of a 60-kilowatt (kW) laser. This one was twice as powerful as one they assessed in 2015.
The weapon itself is a combined fiber laser, which means it doesn’t actually fire one but two lasers condensed into one beam, making it stronger. It uses fiber optics bundled together where each contributes energy to the beam, making the process scalable. The particular laser tested however was “diffraction-limited,” meaning it was close to the place where the beam could no longer be concentrated on a fixed point.
Most military lasers today are too big and need too much power. New designs are blowing these models away. Getty Images.
The beam is actually invisible and as with most lasers, silent. Not only that, it’s proved extremely accurate and efficient. 43% of the overall power goes to the laser, allowing the rest to go to the truck. Robert Afzal is a senior fellow for laser and sensor systems at Lockheed Martin. He told The Washington Post, “We’re really at the dawn of an era of the utility of laser weapons.”
The system will soon be delivered to the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (USASMDC/ARSTRAT), in Huntsville, Alabama, where it will undergo further testing. Initially, the system reached 58 kW, a record. But Lockheed officials assured it will produce a 60 kW beam by the time it’s ready, sometime in the next few months.
SMDC spokesman John Cummings said, “Our ultimate goal is to have a 100kW laser on a vehicle.” He added, “We have to take baby steps to get there.” Besides trucks, such lasers could be mounted on planes, helicopters, and ships.
The US Air Force and DARPA are even working on laser shielding. That’s right. Force fields.