In a move that could revolutionize aerial combat, the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) has awarded Lockheed Martin a US$26.3 million contract to design, develop, and produce a high-power laser weapon that the AFRL wants to install and test on a tactical fighter jet by 2021. The new test weapon is part of the AFRL Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program tasked with developing airborne laser systems.
Airborne laser weapons are nothing new. Experimental lasers mounted on aircraft date back to the US Strategic Defense Initiative of the 1980s, but producing a practical weapon system has proven difficult. Previous attempts have resulted in dodgy chemical laser weapons so bulky that they had to be mounted in a 747, but the development of solid state fiber optic lasers is starting to change the game.