Lasers have been a mainstay weapon of science fiction for years. In the real world, lasers haven't quite reached the operational weapon stage, but have been used for range-finding and guiding weapons like the AGM-123 Skipper, AGM-114 Hellfire, and the Paveway laser-guided bombs. These weapons would home in on a target that was painted with the laser, and were able to hit within ten feet of their aimpoint routinely.
Well, laser weapons that do the damage themselves, as opposed to being mere guidance systems, are getting closer to reality. Earlier this year, the Army tested a laser weapon on the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The Navy had a laser on the afloat staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15, ex-LPD 15), which was in the Persian Gulf. Lockheed's ATHENA laser was tested last month on five MQM-170C drones. Now, Lockheed has a tactical concept to put a laser weapon system of the H-60 airframe.
USS Ponce conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research-sponsored Laser Weapon System. (Navy photo by John F. Williams.)
The concept system in question is the High Energy Fiber Laser. This is a self-contained pallet system that can make existing H-60s that could equip them with up to a 30-kilowatt laser. That's the same level of firepower (or is laser-power the better word?) as the ATHENA. That sounds very impressive, and a big step forward. How is this done?
According to information Lockheed provided after a request made at the Association of the United States Army expo in Washington, D.C., the High Energy Fiber Laser is actually a self-contained pallet that can be installed or removed from a H-60 airframe. With the HEFL system on board, the H-60 could defensively counter small threats, including rockets, artillery, mortars, or small UAV.
Lockheed Martin's 30-kilowatt fiber laser weapon system successfully disabled the engine of a small truck during a recent field test. Imagine what it can do to those annoying Iranian speedboats that harass U.S. Navy ships. (Image Lockheed Martin)
The introduction of laser weapons on an operation scale is still years away, so for now, zapping annoying Iranian drones and speedboats that harass U.S. Navy forces is still in the realm of science fiction. But that science fiction is coming closer to being science fact.