March 23, 2014

Reagan’s Star Wars Laser Defense goes to Lockheed Martin

By Mark Wachtler

March 23, 2014. Bothell, WA. (ONN) Remember President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars laser defense system that generated panic throughout the Soviet Union? The system envisioned at the time would make ICBM’s, cruise missiles, fighter jets, bombers, drones and even IED’s obsolete. In an announcement earlier this month, the Pentagon awarded the Star Wars defense project to Lockheed Martin with a delivery date of 2016.

Lockheed Martin's 'Star Wars' laser weapon. Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin.

“To see the light on Lockheed Martin’s technology for the Army’s Robust Electric Laser Initiative (RELI), simply think about Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The cover art for the iconic 1970s album depicts multi-colored waves of light entering a prism and coming out as a single beam,” a Lockheed Martin spokesperson announced back in 2010, “While the band members may have been ahead of their time musically, it’s unlikely they knew their album art offered a conceptual illustration of the cutting edge technology being used for a first-of-its-kind high power fiber laser-based system suitable for military applications.”



Star Wars laser weapons

On this day in 1983, President Reagan shocked the world when he delivered his ‘Star Wars’ speech. He called it the Strategic Defense Initiative and the concept revolved around using lasers for air defense instead of SAM’s, large caliber machine guns or all the other military defense methods of the last century. By 1993, a company called Aculight had developed the technology, leading to defense contractor Lockheed Martin to purchase the corporation in 2008.

The four year old announcement from Lockheed Martin describes how the Pentagon awarded their Aculight division a $14 million contract to, ‘design, develop, build and test a system.’ Based on the procurement order, the Defense Department envisions a small, possibly portable, laser beam weapon that can be mounted on anything a machine gun can be mounted on - specifically warships, tanks, armored vehicles, and border defense positions. Design specifications call for a 360-degree rotating firing platform. Prototypes have been less than impressive visually so far, with the units looking like rotating cameras mounted to the tops of things that resemble bread trucks and household air conditioners.

Now, four years later, Lockheed Martin has successfully tested its first laser weapon prototype, leading the Pentagon to award an additional $25.2 million contract to the company to, ‘design, develop, fabricate, test, and deliver to the US Army a 60-kilowatt spectrally combined high-power fiber laser that will be used in the Army's High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, or HEL MD, program.’ So far, Lockheed Martin engineers have only been able to develop a laser with a 30-kilowatt beam. But they have no doubt they can achieve the more powerful output by the delivery date of 2016.

How it works

Unlike past attempts to create a laser weapon, this newer concept involves, ironically enough, another idea taken from the entertainment industry. Remember the movie Ghostbusters when they repeatedly warned each other, “Don’t cross the streams”? The Ghostbusters warned that if the light streams from their laser guns touched each other, they would blow up the universe. Lockheed Martin designers had no such worries, as that’s exactly how they developed their successful Star Wars laser defense weapon.



Announcing its first-ever successful test of the weapon in January of this year, Lockheed Martin explained how it works, “The unique process, called Spectral Beam Combining, sends beams from multiple fiber laser modules, each with a unique wavelength, into a combiner that forms a single, powerful, high quality beam.” Until now, laser weapon prototypes were unfeasible due to the massive machines and cooling systems needed to operate them. Now, the defense contractor has found a way to create just as much power on a much smaller scale.

“The high-energy laser serves as the heart of a laser weapon system,” said Ray Johnson, Senior VP and Chief Technology Officer at Lockheed Martin, “This 30-kilowatt milestone shows our commitment to producing the high beam quality and high power needed to address a variety of military ‘speed-of-light’ defensive operations.”

For more information, visit Lockheed Martin.

 

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