Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

US defense agency to develop new laser turrets for aircraft

U.S. agency DARPA signed a contract with Lockheed Martin to develop a compact laser defense system for aircraft. The laser turret is going to be more effective than any automatic gun. It will have unlimited ammunition, highest accuracy, the ability to intercept missiles and low collateral damage.

How can one protect aircraft operating above enemy territory from attacks of enemy aircraft? Designers of aircraft had to face this question almost simultaneously with the appearance of bomber aircraft. After all, if such a plane is "fear and terror" for the ground, it is hard to find defense for a large and relatively slow-moving aircraft in the air.

At first, there were open-air and then completely sealed rotary machine gun and cannon turrets. The turrets were reminiscent of all-glass hemispheres, which designers began to install behind the keel, and on the tail of the fuselage - both above and below, as well as on the nose. Some turrets had up to four shooting units, so that attacking enemy planes had to deal with a real downpour of lead bullets.

Over time, machine guns were replaced with cannons, and the firepower of bombers increased even more. Cannon turrets can still be found on modern Russian military transport planes. However, such turrets are powerless when it comes to enemy missiles launched from a distance. It just so happens that the protection issue today has become even more serious than it was during the years of World War II.

But if there is a sword, then sooner or later there will also a shield. Scientific and defense agency DARPA signed a contract with Lockheed Martin worth $9.5 million for the development of compact laser defense system for aircraft.

The new project has quite a long name - Aero-Adaptive/Aero-Optic Beam Control (ABC), but the goal of development is very simple.  To receive high-energy lasers to protect tactical aircraft from enemy aircraft and missiles, attacking them from the rear hemisphere. Another goal is to replace the rear cannon systems on bombers and military transport aircraft. Such defense systems based on laser emitters are to be a lot more effective than automatic guns.

First, it will have "unlimited" ammunition, highest accuracy, an ability to intercept missiles and low collateral damage. Secondly, it would be possible to install such lasers not only on heavy aircraft, but also on light ones - fighters and attack aircraft. Initial tests of the new turret are to take place on business class airplane.

The defensive laser will be equipped with adaptive optics, that is, an optical system, that will be able to maintain the maximum efficiency of a laser beam aimed at the target, regardless of atmospheric conditions. Under the current contract, it is planned to develop a prototype of such a turret and an optical system, to test the system in the wind tunnel, and finally finish it all with testing the prototype of the defensive laser on board an aircraft.

A laser turret to defend aircraft from attacks from the rear hemisphere will significantly increase the survivability of military aircraft. Ground-based lasers have proven effective in intercepting missiles and UAVs.  There are no doubts in their ability to blind optical sensors of enemy missiles, not to mention pilots' eyes. High-energy lasers of new defensive turrets will be able to blind a pilot or an infrared homing head, and also damage the lining of enemy fighters or missiles.

The radio-fairing head parts of missiles can not be done from metal - radio waves will not be able to pass through them otherwise. But being made of plastic, they become very vulnerable to high-light radiation: designers intend to use this detail in their work.

Vyacheslav Shpakovsky


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