By 2020, the U.S. Air Force expects to have “directed energy combat weapons pods” on its jets. During the Air Force Association Air Space conference, the Air Force General with the most Air Force name ever, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, said “I believe we’ll have a directed energy pod we can put on a fighter plane very soon. That day is a lot closer than I think a lot of people think it is.”
The lasers will be a weapon against unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), missiles, and other aircraft, according to Gen. Carlisle. The Army, Marine Corps, and the Navy, thinks of lasers as a defensive weapon. The Army, Navy, and Marines’ laser weapons are designed shoot down incoming artillery shells, rockets, and drones, their objective is developing a defensive weapon to shoot down incoming high-speed ballistic and cruise missiles.
The Air Force’s ideas for laser tactics is actually much more aggressive then Gen. Carlisle would lead us to believe. Since directed energy weapons can shoot multiple shots at the speed of light on a single gallon of gas, the Air Force sees a nearly unlimited weapon, capable of taking out not only incoming missiles, but also their source.
“My customer is the enemy. I deliver violence,” Air Force Lt Gen. Brad Heithold, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, told an audience at a directed energy conference in August 2015. Heithold wants the chance to mount such a laser onto one of AC-130 gunships.
Laser weapons are becoming much more compact and capable of being mounted on aircraft as small as a Predator drone. Portability is what makes the difference in battlefield development. Such a laser used to be the size of a passenger jet. The previous restrictively large sizes were based on their cooling methods. Liquid lasers that have large cooling systems can fire continuous beams, while solid state laser beams are more intense but must be fired in pulses to stop them from overheating.
Now, General Atomics is field testing a DARPA-funded weapon it calls “High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System” (or HELLADS), which is roughly five feet long.
The actual HELLADS system doesn’t have video of tests yet but here’s a similar American-Israeli system being tested to take out incoming mortar rounds.