Companies involved in the F-35 programme are considering laser weapon concepts for use by the aircraft.
Last year, a press briefing in the Netherlands for the F-35 has restarted the rumour mill that the F-35 will be one of the platforms that will eventually feature laser based weapons technology.
In addition, it was reported that F-35 engine makers Pratt & Whitney are refining their proposed upgrade path for the F135 Joint Strike Fighter engine to include increased power and thermal management capability following feedback on its initially proposed upgrade package from the F-35 Joint Program Office. Additional power and thermal management capability will enable the use of directed-energy weapons and other advanced offensive and defensive systems and we understand that, if approved, would feature in an upgrade package called Growth Option 2.0.
Lockheed Martin, Notre Dame University, DARPA and the Air Force Research Lab last year started flight testing a streamlined and miniaturised airborne laser turret. The turret allows for 360 degree aiming coverage for directed energy weapons that will be flying on military aircraft in the not so distant future and is able to rapidly aim at targets and focus a directed energy burst through the atmosphere at those targets to disable or destroy them.
Lockheed senior fellow for laser and sensor systems said at a media briefing:
“We’re looking at concepts for the integration of a laser weapon onto the F-35. We’re also looking at the utility and doing models and calculations so you would understand the utility of a laser weapon system in the F-35.”
General Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, said recently that the US Air Force is continuing efforts to field directed energy weapons:
“I think we’re on the cusp of actually being able to field a true laser weapon within the next five to six years. We’ve got an activity that’s going forward, to put a laser on a fighter aircraft, not to blow up scud missiles or to win in a dogfight, but as an air defence.”
Rumours and speculation are rife but at a time where directed energy based technology is fast being adopted by the military, we can only expect them to become more common.