Military Review

SHiELD and others. Prospects for the development of US aviation laser systems


F-16 fighter with Lockheed Martin TALSW container - so far only in advertising

In the United States, the development of promising combat lasers for various purposes continues, including. airborne systems. One of the new models of this kind is intended for installation on fighter aircraft. Its appearance is expected by 2025. In case of successful completion of this project, it is possible to develop other samples with improved characteristics and a different architecture.

Laser in a container

At the initiative of the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the SHiELD (Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator) project is currently being developed. One of the program participants is Lockheed Martin with its TALWS project (Tactical Airborne Laser Weapon System - "Tactical aviation laser system weapons").

The goal of the SHiELD project is to create a suspended container with a high-energy laser capable of protecting the carrier aircraft from anti-aircraft or aircraft missiles. It is assumed that various surveillance equipment, including elements of the on-board defense complex, will monitor the surrounding space, detect missile launches and issue target designations to the SHiELD product. The task of the latter will be to "blind" the homing heads and "incinerate" the elements of the missile structure.

The SHiELD container is intended for tactical aircraft, which imposes serious restrictions on size, weight and power supply. However, Lockheed-Martin speaks about the availability of the necessary technologies and components to create a TALWS laser in an optimal form factor with sufficient characteristics.

AFRL and Lockheed Martin have already carried out the first tests of SHiELD components. In particular, in the spring of 2019, a low-power version of the laser was tested at a ground-based test bench. More powerful emitters will be tested in the near future. It is envisaged to develop unified systems suitable for use in the Air Force and ground forces.

Basic technologies

Lockheed-Martin has already revealed some details of its TALWS project. The list of components installed inside the container was announced and the main technologies were named. Some of the necessary components have already been developed, while others have yet to be brought into working order.

The main component of SHiELD / TALWS is the laser. The type and power of this device has not yet been disclosed. It is only known that the laser will be compact and can be installed in a container like the existing ones. It will emit a beam of tens of kilowatts, sufficient to destroy optics and structural elements. In this case, the range and the exact effect are also not named.

Over the past few years, Lockheed Martin and its suppliers have been working on a new beam guidance system. Similar products existed before, but the goal of the new project was to create a small-sized optical device that fits into a container. A new system of this kind is almost ready and will soon be tested.

Power supply is a key issue in any combat laser. It is proposed to equip the TALWS container with rechargeable batteries or supercapacitors with high performance. They will be charged from the on-board network of the carrier aircraft and, when fired, provide the necessary impulse. The required characteristics of the container's power system are not named, but the expected laser power makes it possible to estimate their level.

SHiELD / TALWS also requires an automatic control system capable of receiving target designation from the aircraft's ADS and controlling laser guidance. When developing it, it is necessary to solve the problem of effectively tracking the target and keeping the beam on its vulnerable elements for a certain time, despite the movement of the target and the carrier's maneuvers. Earlier it was reported that to solve these problems, developments on laser target designation containers will be used.

Plans for the future

Lockheed Martin isn't just working on combat lasers for the Air Force. Similar systems are being created for ground forces and fleet... At the same time, the company often uses common solutions and components for different types of weapons. So, it has already been announced that tests of a new guidance system will begin as part of a ground-based laser complex.

Next year, a ground-based anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense complex will be submitted for testing. It will include a 300-kilowatt laser and a compact guidance system also offered for the TALWS container. In addition, the complex will receive controls that, after some modifications, can be used in aviation.

During the tests, it is planned to check the joint operation of all the main elements of the ground complex. If necessary, they will be improved - and as a result, you will get a set of components for two promising developments at once. By 2025, a full-fledged SHiELD / TALWS container will be made on their basis.

How long it will take to test the laser container is unknown. According to optimistic forecasts, by the end of the decade, the TALWS project can be brought to mass production and introduction of products in the Air Force and naval aviation. However, plans of this kind have not yet been worked out and approved.

Further development

The goal of the SHiELD project is to create a suspended laser self-defense system for tactical aircraft. The next step in this direction may be the development of similar systems that are integrated into the design of the carrier aircraft. In this case, the anti-missile laser will be able to effectively protect the aircraft, but will not take up space on the pylon and increase the RCS.

First of all, such systems will find application in the further development of strategic bombers. Such aircraft need effective protection, but cannot carry air-to-air missiles and are not always equipped with cannons. Integrated lasers prove to be a convenient way out. It is also possible to install such funds on lighter aircraft. However, in this case, the laser complex will compete for volumes with other equally important systems.

So far, we are talking only about the laser as a means of self-defense. However, further development of technologies can lead to an increase in the power of the emitters and a corresponding increase in combat effectiveness. It is quite possible that in the distant future, containerized or integrated laser systems can be used not only for defense against missiles, but also for attacking larger targets. However, one should not be overly optimistic in this area. The defeat of large air or ground targets is a rather difficult task and makes special demands on the laser.

As practice shows, high-power lasers cannot be installed on tactical aircraft at present and in the short term. Accordingly, for the next few years, their combat potential will be based only on "traditional" missiles and bombs.

Experience and novelties

In promotional material for the TALWS project, Lockheed Martin cites 40 years of experience in overhead container development and laser technology. The new project, which is being created in conjunction with AFRL, will combine the accumulated experience with the aim of producing new and remarkable results.

There are high hopes for the current SHiELD program. In the coming years, it can lead to the emergence of new means of defense that significantly affect the combat qualities of tactical aviation. And in the future, on its basis, new developments with wider possibilities may appear. All this allows the developers of the program to talk about an imminent revolution in the field of aircraft defense and destruction. However, it is not yet clear whether such a breakthrough will succeed.
Photos used:
Lockheed Martin
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  1. Cowbra
    Cowbra 7 December 2020 06: 25
    If I'm not mistaken. we already have such a complex. Call the President.
    1. Civil
      Civil 7 December 2020 09: 42
      Developments have been brought to mind since the first cold war.
  2. Thrifty
    Thrifty 7 December 2020 07: 21
    300 kilowatt laser? Is this the total power, or is the power of the pulse-ray output? Our technique has not yet reached such a figure, therefore, such a statement from the USA at least udevilized me. ..
    1. Shopping Mall
      Shopping Mall 7 December 2020 12: 59
      Quote: Thrifty
      300 kilowatt laser? Is this the total power, or is the power of the pulse-ray output? Our technique has not yet reached such a figure, therefore, such a statement from the USA at least udevilized me. ..

      This is the output optical power of the beam. And why did you decide that we should be the first in this matter?
      1. astepanov
        astepanov 7 December 2020 14: 52
        The question is not only about the power, but also about the pulse duration, the time of holding the beam on the target, the divergence of the beam ... Without this, these are empty words. In all American studies, the value of 20 kJ / cm1 is taken as the threshold for thermal damage to laser radiation. When the beam cross section on the target is 1 cm sq. a laser with an output power of more than 20 kW is needed to hit within 10 s. I have no idea how to keep such a beam without displacement, especially if the target maneuvers or rotates, or the beam falls not along the normal, but at an angle. Of course, a beam of a larger diameter is needed - but with a beam diameter of 750 cm, a power of 1500 kW is needed! And the energy in a second impulse is XNUMX kJ!
        And what about the drive? And here's what: the efficiency of the laser is obviously less than 50%, which means that you need a storage device for at least 3 MJ. Lithium-ion batteries have a capacity of about 1 kW / kg, which means that the mass of the battery must be at least 3 tons. With "supercapacitors", the picture looks pretty sad too.
        In total, we have: a storage device - 3 tons, + the laser itself, + a guidance and confinement system, + a cooling system, + a recharging system ... Many, many tons.
        1. Intruder
          Intruder 7 December 2020 19: 08
          With "supercapacitors", the picture looks rather gloomy too.
          Now, by the way, they are lighter than 5 years ago and the specific power is already noticeably growing, maybe they have already been used for specific energy and they have been approved for military products, or they will wait another 5-10 years and roll out with a specific ... in the region of 5-10 kW / kg masses!?
          1. astepanov
            astepanov 7 December 2020 20: 30
            Quote: Intruder
            Now, by the way, they are lighter than 5 years ago and the specific power is already noticeably growing, maybe already with specific energy and decided for military products

            Ionistors (by the way, a meaningless commercial term, and the correct name is electrochemical capacitors, EC) have a pretty decent power, but they have another problem - their specific energy is low compared to storage batteries. Powerful ECs have a specific energy in hard modes in the region of 7 - 10 kJ / kg, and because of the switching elements of the structure, they have no noticeable gain over batteries either in power density or in energy density. Over the past 5 years, progress has been completely insignificant, and it is aimed at increasing the resource and expanding the temperature range. I know this area quite well, because I have been working in it for many years. Capacitors of JSC "Energia" - this is the development of my colleagues and mine too.
            1. Intruder
              Intruder 7 December 2020 20: 50
              More precisely, marketing trend :) (about the name ...)
              Well, also this:
              1.Large maximum charging and discharging currents ... where it is needed and controlled by drivers !!!
              2.Little degradation ..., compared to chemical batteries !!!
              (The same thing in the past dealt with them in the field of: "alternative energy and electric transport", not only from consumer goods from China, but also with Japanese and Korean products, so I quite see the range of application and development in the last 5 years ...)
            2. Intruder
              Intruder 7 December 2020 21: 31
              I don’t want to say bad things, I looked at your site ... it’s not very rich with products and especially with the intended purpose, but to be honest ... it swayed a little towards the past: "Soviet microcircuits are the most .... more ...", but so, with the dimension of a very narrow product catalog, I don't even know if it could have been done yet .... "diesel locomotives and tractors", with the technologies of the last century, alas! :)
              1. astepanov
                astepanov 7 December 2020 22: 00
                Quote: Intruder
                .... "diesel locomotives and tractors", with the technologies of the last century, alas! :)
                In vain you are so.
                The main application is defense. The real range of products exceeds that in the catalog. And in terms of safety, resistance to voltage surges, temperature range, real resource, the capacitor modules of Energia have no equal. And easier to operate: for example, no alignment systems are required.
                1. Intruder
                  Intruder 8 December 2020 00: 21
                  In vain you are so.
                  ? This is why ...., or have you now advertised your native production, well, that's understandable, honestly :) - if it's advertising, of course !?
                  The real range of products exceeds that in the catalog.
                  and telepathists are in quarantine, how to understand what you have, if not in the directory ??? Fly over 10 km., For the paper version ??? If you can put it on the site and update it, why complicate it this way?
                  JSC "Energia" has no equal
                  okay, unparalleled! And where can you find out about it ???
                  And easier to operate: for example, no alignment systems are required.
                  but here you can in more detail, precisely in technical language, without the marketing husk, which I already read on your site today (about defense and "space") ...? :)
                  resistance to voltage surges,
                  in which of the applications, these same races ??? I'm already wondering what the developer himself will write, it's just that thoughts began to hover in my head, and not very good ones in the field of jumps ... by the way :)
                  1. astepanov
                    astepanov 8 December 2020 08: 18
                    Quote: Intruder
                    in which of the applications, these same races ??? already wondering what the developer himself will write
                    Email me in PM - I am the developer. And a factory is a production, they will still send it to me. We will agree on the TT if we fit into the possibilities. And there it will reach the plant.
    2. Intruder
      Intruder 7 December 2020 19: 05
      this is pulse power, most likely! So, with picosecond pulses, it can also give out a megawatt pulse, only how it will be cooled, with a cryogenic heat exchanger, or outboard air with a liquid coolant, plus we must not forget that the URVV is still a maneuverable target, especially of a short range, and aim with holding on the hull or seeker during its maneuvers with accelerations - a beam or a series of impulses ... somehow it looks like a fantasy, but "if the weights are golden ..."
  3. A. Privalov
    A. Privalov 7 December 2020 08: 30
    Keyword of the article: "CONTAINER".
  4. Maksim_ok
    Maksim_ok 13 December 2020 23: 24
    If the laser is within the dimensions of a regular external fuel tank, then the norms.