Lasers Could Be Coming To The F-35

Image via Flickr user Heath Cajandig

AA Font size + Print

Advances across a range of fields could enable a sci-fi upgrade to the fighter jet.

Lockheed Martin’s new modular fiber lasers now convert fully 40 percent of input energy to output, which means that — along with advances in manufacturing, targeting, and size-weight-power minimization — the company’s now talking about putting a laser weapon on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

“We are absolutely looking at concepts for integration,” Robert Afzal, the company’s senior fellow of laser systems and sensors, told reporters yesterday.

Unlike solid-state bulk lasers that rely on crystal components, or powerful but unstable chemical lasers, fiber lasers generate their beams inside fiber optics, making the device more flexible and efficient. Afzal compared it to a prism that works in reverse. Whereas a prism takes light and fractures it into beams of different colors, a fiber laser merges several beams into one.

Moreover, Lockheed Martin has developed a way to adjust a laser weapon’s output by adding modules, allowing it to be tailored for missions or threats.

The company is under contract to deliver a 60-kilowatt fiber laser to the Pentagon next year. “The Army has the option to add more modules and increase power from 60kW to 120kW as a result of the laser’s modularity,” the company said in a press release.

“Because the laser is so electrically efficient, the laser weapon will be smaller than previous technologies,” said Afzal.

Those efficiency gains could make it suitable for jets. The company faces competition from rival General Atomics, which has already delivered a 150-kilowatt solid-state laser to the Pentagon for testing and is looking into mounting one on the company’s Predator C drone.

The Air Force has recently become more bold in its predictions that a laser could be airborne by 2020. For instance, the Missile Defense Agency recently announced that they were revamping the Airborne Laser Program that was shuttered in 2012. The goal is to fly an airborne laser demonstrator in 2021.

“Everybody thinks you have a tendency to talk about high-powered microwaves and lasers and it’s kind of science fiction,” Air Combat Command leader Gen. Herbert Carlisle, the leader of Air Combat Command, said at the recent Air Force Association Air and Space Conference. “But this is a reality. … I believe that we will have a directed energy capability in a pod that can be mounted on a fighter aircraft very soon.”

Afzal cautioned that an F-35 laser was currently mostly a topic of interest and discussion within the company.

“What we’re doing is we’re looking at the concepts. How would a system even go into the F-35? And we’re also looking into the utility and doing models and calculations to see the utility,” he said.

And Air Force officials have hinted that they’re interested in putting a laser on the jet, although other have noted that such a weapon would primarily be intended to protect a plane from enemy aircraft — something the F-35’s stealth features are already supposed to do.

“We’re certainly talking to the Air Force about their plans, their roadmap, for developing laser weapons for F-35 and other platforms. We would want to do that in partnership with the Air Force,” said Iain Mckinnie, business development lead for Laser Sensors and Systems, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.