The U.S. Air Force is working with Lockheed Martin to deploy lasers on fighter jets by 2025

The SHiELD program will allow fighter jets to shoot down incoming missiles.

Unlike guns, lasers have an almost infinite ammunition supply.

The U.S. Air Force envisions placing laser weapon systems on fighter jets by the mid-2020s. The service is banking on a defense contractor’s SHiELD laser system, a pod-mounted laser that will protect fighters from incoming missiles.

The system will likely be used—at first, anyway—to protect older fighters that can’t take advantage of stealth to hide from the enemy.

The system is called SHiELD, or Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator. National Defense reports SHiELD is a pod-mounted laser developed by Lockheed Martin on behalf of the Air Force Research Laboratory. Mounted on the fuselage or wing of a fighter jet, SHiELD could shoot down incoming air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.

Three U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, assigned to the 391st Fighter Squadron from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, fire flares over the Utah Test and Training Range, July 2018.

Today’s fighter jets are largely limited to passive defenses against incoming missiles. Pilots can take evasive action to try and fly outside an incoming missile’s sensor arc, launch flares to distract an infrared missile seeker, or spread strips of aluminum foil, known as “chaff,” to confuse a missile guided by radar. A laser would be the first real “active” anti-missile defense in the world of air combat, actively trying to shoot a missile down.

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SHiELD is a pod-mounted system, meaning it will take up a station on a fighter jet typically reserved for bombs, missiles, or sensor pods. That makes it a bad fit for stealthy aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor or F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as the pod will break up the plane’s carefully minimized radar signature. That said, both planes already have a missile defense system already built in: stealth technology.

SHiELD could help fighters like this F-16 to fend off surface-to-air missiles.

Instead, SHiELD will likely go on fighters unable to hide from their adversaries, such as the Air Force’s F-15E, F-15C, and new F-15EX Eagle fighters, F-16 Fighting Falcons, and perhaps even A-10C Warthog attack jets. Trading the ability to carry one more missile or bomb for a laser that could shoot down many incoming missiles is a no-brainer.

Source: Popular Mechanics

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  • Founder of IADN. He has more than 10 years of experience in research and analysis. An award winning researcher, he writes for the leading defence and security journals, think-tanks and in-service publications. He is a senior consultant at the Indian Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Shimla. Contact him at: [email protected]

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