THE defence firm Lockheed Martin has revealed plans to fit powerful laser weapons to fighter jets by 2021.
It had won a contract worth $26.3 million (£20million) from the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) to develop a “high power fibre laser”.
The project will form part of the AFRL Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) scheme, which is working to build futuristic weapons of war.
Lockheed Martin will test the weapons in 2021.
America and Russia are currently locked in a race to develop lasers, with Russia working to fit older aircraft with experimental weapons.
“Lockheed Martin continues to rapidly advance laser weapon systems and the technologies that make them possible,” said Dr. Rob Afzal, senior fellow of laser weapon systems at Lockheed Martin.
“We have demonstrated our ability to use directed energy to counter threats from the ground, and look forward to future tests from the air as part of the SHiELD system.”
The firm tested a laser tank early this year, fitting a 60 kW-class laser on a U.S. Army ground vehicle.
It also used a laser to blast drones out of the sky during a test in September.
Afzal said that fitting beam weapons to a jet is a “completely new and different challenge”.
Lasers are known to be heavy and get extremely hot, making them difficult to fit to fighter jets.
He added: “The development of high power laser systems like SHiELD show laser weapon system technologies are becoming real. The technologies are ready to be produced, tested and deployed on aircraft, ground vehicles and ships.”
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence announced a £30m contract to build a Laser Directed Energy weapon.
Several European defence firms will work together to create a prototype that can pick up and track targets across land and sea.
It will be rolled out across the armed forces by 2019 to “keep this country ahead of the curve”, said Harriet Baldwin, Minister for Defence Procurement.
The weapons will be housed in a pod attached to fighter jets.
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