The global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin has announced plans for the most powerful laser system it has yet produced—a 500-kW-class laser aimed for use in directed-energy weapons systems. The system will be developed under a recently awarded contract from the US Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering, OUSD (R&E).
The new laser would break the record set by the company’s existing 300-kW laser, developed as part of an earlier contract from OUSD (R&E). “The 500-kW laser will incorporate our successes from the 300-kW system and lessons learned from legacy programs to further prove the capability to defend against a range of threats,” said Rick Cordaro, vice president of mission systems and weapons at Lockheed Martin, in a press release.
HELSI’s new phase
The project marks the start of the second phase of the High Energy Laser Scaling Initiative (HELSI)—a program designed to aid the US Army’s larger Indirect Fire Protection Capability–High Energy Laser (IFPC–HEL) effort. IFPC–HEL seeks to integrate high-energy lasers into existing defense systems to protect fixed and semi-fixed sites from rockets, artillery, mortars, unmanned aerial systems and rotary and fixed-wing threats.
Lockheed Martin developed its 300-kW laser, which was launched in September 2022, under the first phase of HELSI. The US Army intends to deploy as many as four operational 300-kW-class IFPC–HEL prototypes in tactical military vehicles by 2024.
HELSI’s second phase aims to increase the high-energy CW laser source’s power while achieving excellent beam quality and optimizing efficiency, size, weight and volume. Striking that balance, according to Lockheed Martin, will reduce risk for Department of Defense acquisition and fielding of high-powered laser weapons across all branches of the US military.
Laser weapons of the future
The 500-kW laser will be tactically configured and will leverage Lockheed Martin’s existing spectral-beam-combined architecture.
The 500-kW laser will be tactically configured and will leverage Lockheed Martin’s existing spectral-beam-combined architecture—a power-scalable technique that transmits laser beams of different wavelengths to a grating and combines them into a single, higher-energy beam. The system will also incorporate Department of Defense Modular Open Systems Approach standards, which are intended to ensure interoperability and allow rapid deployment of new technology through modular design and severable major system components.
“OUSD (R&E) has invested to mature high-energy lasers in support of America’s warfighters,” said Cordaro. “At the same time, Lockheed Martin has invested in our production infrastructure in anticipation of the Department of Defense’s demand for laser weapons that have additional layers of protection with deep magazines, low cost per engagement, high speed of light delivery and high-precision response reducing logistics requirements.”