A week without lasers is a bad week! It slowly starts to look like this so to keep the trend I had no other solution than to write a bit more about lasers. The recent news is that the AC-130J is very close to shoot with a laser “gun”.
Through the few months of writing this blog I have already written three times about laser related systems on airborne platforms. The first text was about laser systems on fighter aircraft. This kind of weapon might change the perspective in which we look at current aircraft types.
The second text was about a more defensive approach with the LDAL technology. The last one was connected with the fact that USA is facing some real problems right now connected with real speedy development of new technologies in countries which might be future US opponents.
And here we are with another laser. This time it’s something different and more real. Of course the previous projects were also interesting but with this one we might be even months away from real shooting. AC-130J, the much appreciated gunship, might get a new tool to get the job done. Recently Lt. Gen. Marshall “Brad” Webb spoke at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium. He highlighted there the state of the laser development program and according to him we might be “months to maybe a year out” from putting the laser on board and conducting some live fire tests.
There are some money shortages in the program but if we look at them they sound very silly – it’s all about a few dozen million dollars – compared to other military programs this is a very small sum so I think that eventually the money will be found. There is also a second problem connected with the rules of engagement while using lasers on board of aircraft. This has to be solved by the bureaucrats and politicians so it’s above the engineers and scientists.
The AC-130J is currently equipped with a 105 mm howitzer and a 30 mm cannon. It can also fire Griffin or Viper Strike’s and carry SDB bombs and Hellfire missiles under it’s wings. It’s unclear at this point if mounting a laser would require to drop some of the weapons capabilities or it would supplement the already proven package.
The position of the laser also has to be tested. It might be placed under the “belly” of the aircraft or on it’s left side where the main “punch” comes from. If the side variant would be chosen it is assumed that it would have to be somewhere in the front section, before the wing and the engines which make pretty big turbulence’s.
Using lasers on such big aircraft gives the contractors more place for development and testing when compared with fighters. AC-130J could accommodate a much more powerful unit.
The recent news about using swarms of drones might be a good motivator to rapidly develop lasers. High speed and precise laser cannons could be a great weapon to combat small but lethal drones hovering over the not so distant future battlefield. Further more the AC-130J could also be a platform to drop his own small drones combining both worlds.
There is also a second option. US has to somehow protect the tankers. The F-35 and F-22 fleet is as good as its fuel supply, and they can burn a lot of fuel which means that on each mission tankers have to be on station. If you fight a asymmetric war that might not be a decisive problem but that time is long gone. Today USA is facing challenges from countries which are nearly equal in their potential. This means that the tankers aren’t safe any more. Flares, dipoles, jamming are not a solution. You need an active weapon and lasers might be the right answer to this problem.
The future will tell if this concept was right but at this point it sound very reasonable and looks promising.