In 2017, the Air Force Research Lab awarded a $26.3 million contract to Lockheed Martin for the design, development, and production of a high power fiber laser. Named the Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments, LANCE is part of the Air Force’s Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator program to develop protective airborne laser systems. In 2022, Lockheed Martin delivered LANCE to AFRL.
On July 11, 2022, Lockheed Martin revealed that the company delivered the weapon system to AFRL in February 2022. “It is the smallest, lightest, high energy laser of its power class that Lockheed Martin has built to date,” Lockheed Martin executive Tyler Griffin told reporters prior to the Farnborough Air Show. “It is a critical benchmark in developing an operational laser weapon system in the airborne domain.”
LANCE is a compact, high-efficiency laser designed around the constraints of mounting on a fighter aircraft. “Earlier this year, we delivered a 60 kW-class laser to be installed on a U.S. Army ground vehicle,” said Lockheed Martin senior fellow Dr. Rob Afzal following the awarding of the contract in 2017. “It’s a completely new and different challenge to get a laser system into a smaller, airborne test platform.” LANCE is reportedly one-sixth the size of the Army laser.
LANCE is complimented by a pod subsystem that mounts to the aircraft and includes a beam control targeting system. Boeing, the company responsible for the pod subsystem, delivered it to AFRL in February 2021. With LANCE now delivered, AFRL can begin its analysis and testing of the system. “Mission utility analyses and wargaming studies are ongoing, and will help determine how these subsystems and/or an integrated laser weapon system might potentially be used,” AFRL acting director Kent Wood told Breaking Defense. “Specific targets for future tests and demonstrations will be determined by the results of these studies as well.”
AFRL has not revealed the testing details for LANCE. “A variety of potential applications and platforms are being considered for potential demonstrations and tests, in partnership with our warfighter stakeholders,” Wood said. “At this time, no decision has been made on a specific application or platform for these follow-on activities, no flight demonstration is funded and there is no direct transition plan into a program of record.” Still, the weapon system is a major step forward for the Air Force.