The U.S airforce research lab has started to build the pod-mounted laser weapon designed to safeguard friendly aircraft from enemy missiles. The ‘self-protect high energy laser demonstrator’ POD is undergoing its development stage at Kirtland Air Force base in New Mexico. If it goes as planned, SHIELD’s descendants will protect older Air Force fighters, tanks, and surveillance aircraft from possible missile attacks.
The new system will have three major sub-systems combined to achieve the results, including the pod, the laser, and beam control. AFRL got hold of the pod itself, and the remaining two parts will be developed later this year. The Airforce works closely with Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman to build the SHIELD POD.
Missiles are still on the top, dominating the air-to-air and surface-to-air battles. Missiles are known to travel so fast that it is nearly impossible for conventional guns to trigger an attack and destroy them precisely because an outgoing projectile depends on the wind, gravity, and other key factors.
On the other hand, lasers are designed so that their projectile doesn’t get affected by many of the problems that affect conventional gun operations and aim. The POD laser travels at 186,000 miles per second in a perfectly shaped line. An aircraft-mounted laser would also have an infinite amount of shots.
AFRL credits the SHIELD program with various milestones on the road to a real-life, pod-mounted laser, inclusive of “successfully flying an F-15 with attached laser test pod, and the successful shoot-down of air-launched missiles using a ground-based system configured to represent the laser system’s self-protect aspects.”
The SHiELD is a tech demonstrator, which means it will never witness combat. But in case of its success, it will gradually lead to a pod-mounted laser for several of the U.S air force aircraft. As conventional fighters like F-15 and F-16 could be installed with laser pods for active protection from missiles. Alongside vehicles like the C-17 Globemaster, 3, tankers including KC-135 stratotanker and KC-46 pegasus, and warning control aircrafts such as E-3 sentry could have the recourse to shoot down enemy missiles in a world first.
The following video from Lockheed Martin demonstrates a laser self-defense pod in action. In contrast, the ‘Tactical Airborne Laser Weapon System” is a different entity from SHiELD.
The video has the F-16 fighters wield TALWs, but it is not only in imaginations to build a self-contained system in the future. The U.S airforce expects to conduct a complete test of the SHiELD laser pod in 2024.