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Upgraded 30kW Lockheed Martin laser shoots down 3m drone

21 Sep 2017

Concentrated laser beam takes down unmanned aerial vehicles "twice as quickly and decisively", says defense systems developer.

A Lockheed Martin prototype laser weapon system has been demonstrated to show that an advanced system based on sensors, software and specialized optics can deliver what the company calls “decisive lethality” against unmanned aerial vehicle threats.

In tests conducted with the U.S. Army's Space and Missile Defense Command in August, the 30kW class ATHENA (Advanced Test High Energy Asset) system brought down five 10.8-foot (3.3m) wingspan Outlaw unmanned aerial systems at the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. ATHENA employed advanced beam control technology and an efficient fiber laser in this latest series of tests of the prototype system. Click here to see a video of the testing.

"The tests at White Sands against aerial targets validated our lethality models and replicated the results we've seen against static targets at our own test range," said Keoki Jackson, Lockheed Martin's Chief Technology Officer. "As we mature the technology behind laser weapon systems, we're making the entire system more effective and moving closer to a laser weapon that will provide greater protection to our warfighters by taking on more sophisticated threats from a longer range."

Lockheed Martin partnered with Army Space and Missile Defense Command on a cooperative research and development agreement to test ATHENA. The system defeated airborne targets in flight by causing loss of control and structural failure. Lockheed Martin and the Army will conduct post mission reviews, and data collected will be used to further refine the system, improve model predictions and inform development of future laser systems.

ATHENA is a transportable, ground-based system that serves as a low-cost test bed for demonstrating technologies required for military use of laser weapon systems. Lockheed Martin funded ATHENA's development with research and development investments. It uses the company's 30-kilowatt Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative (ALADIN) that provides great efficiency and lethality in a design that scales to higher power levels. ATHENA is powered by a compact Rolls-Royce turbo generator.

New laser bars and kilowatt stack
High-power semiconductor laser components developer II‐VI, has developed actively cooled laser bars that deliver up to 275W of continuous wave power at an efficiency above 60%. The laser bars enable multi-kilowatt vertical stacks to optically pump neodymium-doped solid-state lasers, including in below-freezing environments. Applications could be in defense or materials processing in industry.

Next generation directed energy weapon systems require increased mobility and operation at extreme ambient temperatures adding that its new laser bars “offer an unprecedented combination of power, efficiency and polarization purity”.

The launch statement said, “The bars enable diode-pumped solid state laser designs employed in new directed energy weapon systems to achieve optimum size, weight and energy efficiency. The use of an ethylene-glycol coolant makes the II-VI laser bars commercially unique in their ability to operate in extremely low temperature conditions such as in airborne vehicles and withstand storage temperatures as low as -40°C.”

“With these bars we are capable of building stacks with more than 7 kilowatts of output power,” said Karlheinz Gulden, General Manager, II-VI Laser Enterprise. “It’s a significant achievement that adds to our 20 year legacy of gallium arsenide laser technology platform development.”

The laser diode-bars, which have demonstrated continuous wave output of up to 275 W, are rated for continuous wave output of 200W in operation. The bars can also be stacked to optically pump multi-kilowatt solid-state lasers. They also feature a proprietary hard solder technology designed to withstand high power pulsed operation with excellent reliability.

With short operating wavelengths in the 8xx nm regime, the laser-bar stacks are also said to be effective in direct diode laser systems to process metals such as copper, bronze, brass, stainless steel and aluminum that are otherwise highly reflective to the longer wavelengths of typical industrial lasers.

II-VI will showcase its optical systems capabilities at the Directed Energy Systems Symposium, which takes place in Monterey, CA, between September 25-29, 2017.

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