Lockheed Martin delivered the smallest airborne laser weapon system ever built to the US Air Force in February, a company official announced Monday.
The Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE) will be the first laser weapon mounted on a tactical aircraft to counter airborne threats such as aircraft, surface-to-air, and air-to-air missiles.
The system will be mounted on a Boeing pod and feature a Northrop Grumman beam controller for precise strikes. Boeing delivered the pod last year.
The subsystems have been developed as part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator project, with expected prototype testing in 2024.
Lockheed executive Tyler Griffin said that the LANCE is the “smallest, lightest, high energy laser of its power class that Lockheed Martin has built to date.”
“It is a critical benchmark in developing an operational laser weapon system in the airborne domain.”
Much Smaller Than Previous Lasers
Griffin added that the system is one-sixth the size of a laser weapon the company developed in 2017. The company demonstrated a 60-kilowatt laser system in 2017, developed as part of the Robust Electric laser Initiative.
The system is also expected to be much smaller than the 60-kilowatt Airborne High Energy Laser the company delivered to the air force last year for its AC-130J gunships.
The AFRL is testing the system’s “mission utility” according to acting director Kent Wood. He told Breaking Defense that “specific targets for future tests and demonstrations will be determined by the results of these studies as well.”