The official deployment of the US Air Force’s airborne high-energy laser weapon has been postponed to next year due to delays in flight testing, The War Zone has reported.
Officials from the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) told the outlet that flight testing is now scheduled to begin in January 2024 and end in June.
The original plan was to integrate the airborne laser into the service’s AC-130J Ghostrider gunship and have its first flight sometime in 2022.
Earlier this year, several reports noted that the much-awaited testing would occur before the end of 2023, but this was pushed back again.
AFSOC officials have not explained the delay, but indications suggest integrating the laser onto the AC-130J was more complicated than expected.
An air force official previously told the outlet that additional testing might be needed, hinting that there were difficulties in performing the modifications required for the Ghostrider to carry the directed-energy weapon.
In 2019, Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract to integrate a 60-watt laser weapon onto the AC-130J to take down enemy assets with improved precision.
However, the Ghostrider already has a precision strike package with 30-millimeter and 105-millimeter cannons.
It can also be fitted with other precision-guided munitions, such as the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, and the AGM-176 Griffin.
Despite the challenges, AFSOC is continuing with the program, as laser weapons are considered ideal for shooting down missiles and disabling enemy electronics due to their extreme accuracy and invisibility.
However, the program’s future remains unclear following development and testing challenges.
AFSOC is expected to decide whether or not it will advance the laser integration and make it a program of record to allow more funding.