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Harnessing The Power Of Light – Lockheed Martin Develops Directed Energy Weapon SystemsBy Julian Nettlefold






Dr. Rob Afzal, Senior Fellow, Laser Sensors and Systems, Lockheed Martin  gave a brief to journalists about Lockheed’s developments in directed energy weapons.

“For 40 years, Lockheed Martin has researched, designed, developed, and captured electromagnetic energy and elevated its power to create innovative Directed Energy solutions. We have developed laser weapon systems, radio frequency and other directed energy technologies for air, ground and sea platforms to provide an affordable countermeasure alternative. We are addressing critical needs such as accuracy, mobility, size, weight and power (SWaP), cooling, and minimal collateral damage,”

“At sea, in the air and on the ground, Lockheed Martin is developing laser weapon systems to protect warfighters on the battlefield. Combined with expert platform integration, these systems are designed to defeat a growing range of threats to military forces and infrastructure.

Our technology today is ready to defend against small rockets, artillery shells and mortars, small unmanned aerial vehicles, small attack boats and lightweight ground vehicles that are approximately a mile way. As fiber laser power levels increase, our systems will be able to disable larger threats and do so across greater distances. When operated in conjunction with kinetic energy systems, these systems can serve as a force multiplier,”

“Our fiber lasers operate with an efficiency that generates less heat and exists in a smaller package allowing easier incorporation into various defense platforms. Our ALADIN laser has operated in the field for two years with no need for realignment, proving both the lethality and the reliability of our solutions. We’re the only company that has an integrated fiber laser weapon system at the power and precision level that we have achieved with ADAM and ATHENA.” Dr. Rob Afzal, Senior Fellow, Laser Sensors and Systems said.

Optical Payload Center of Excellence

To prove the technology Lockheed Martin established an Optical Payload Center of Excellence to develop directed energy technology.

“The center provides a unique collaborative setting for Lockheed Martin technologists. We’re building on decades of experience in optical payloads, and now we will use a fully digital environment that links all stages of development to accelerate collaboration. We’re connecting with our best of industry partners, government labs and universities to advance payloads and rapidly mature technologies, such as digital focal plane technologies, directed energy lasers, ladar systems and specialized lens and mirror research. We’re driving all aspects of our optical payload technology into the future through the use of the Digital Tapestry.” Dr. Rob Afzal said.

Using this centre of excellence, Lockheed Martin has developed a number of directed energy systems including Athena and Helios.

The Lockheed Martin Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) prototype laser weapon system proved that an advanced system of sensors, software and specialized optics can deliver decisive lethality against unmanned aerial vehicle threats. In tests conducted at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, ATHENA destroyed five Outlaw unmanned aerial systems in August 2017.

On March 11th 2020 Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) and the U.S. Navy  moved one step closer to integrating a laser weapon system onto an Arleigh Burke destroyer after successfully conducting a Critical Design Review (CDR) for the High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance (HELIOS) system. HELIOS is now a Program of Rceord.

“Our adversaries are rapidly developing sophisticated weapons and the threats to the U.S. Navy’s fleet are getting more challenging. Our warfighters need this capability and capacity now to effectively counter threats such as unmanned aerial systems and fast attack vessels.”

This year, HELIOS will undergo system integration in Moorestown, New Jersey—the home of Aegis Combat System development for 50 years.  The HELIOS system will then be tested at the Wallops Island Navy land-based test site which will significantly reduce program risk before being delivered to a shipyard for integration into an Arleigh Burke destroyer next year.  In addition to being built into the ship’s structure, HELIOS will become an integrated component of the ship’s Aegis combat system.

“HELIOS will provide an additional layer of protection for the fleet—deep magazine, low cost per kill, speed of light delivery, and precision response. Additional HELIOS systems will accelerate the warfighter learning curve, provide risk reduction for future laser weapon system increments and provide a stronger demand signal to the supply base.”

HELIOS is also being developed under a U.S. Army Programme, which, given the size of the truck platform gives a different set of challenges to Lockheed Martin.

“By its very nature, a warship is the ideal platform for directed energy weapons as its size and ample power systems gives HELIOS an uninterrupted system to protect against incoming threats. A military truck is limited in size and power ability, so we have looked to industry to utilise advances in industrial lasers and energy storage systems to provide the required 24/7 performance. Range, target acquisition and power are the key enablers to the success of HELIOS on land. HELIOS generates a lot of heat, so a 100KW input of power will generate 200KW of heat giving a 30% energy efficiency graph. To enable the system to generate such energy, we have developed a battery storage system to give back up to the main generator.”

“How many targets can you acquire and engage at once?” The Editor asked.

“HELIOS can acquire one target at a time. The system needs an advanced targeting and optical tracking system to firstly acquire the target and then pinpoint the laser on target to enable destruction of the target.  Long range Line-of-Sight target acquisition and stability of the laser on target are key to the success of the system to defeat with a one hit strike. Typical targets are UAVs and soft-skinned vehicles. Main Battle Tanks and other armoured vehicles require total accuracy and time on target to ensure that the target is destroyed. The individual platforms can be networked to provide a battery of systems with a common C2 system. Our aim is to continually refine the size, weight and power of the system to allow it to be mounted on a number of wheeled and tracked vehicles. Weather and atmosphere have an effect on the ability to acquire and destroy the target, with foggy and rainy conditions posing particular problems which is why adaptive optics and advanced displays are key enablers for target acquisition. HELIOS is not a Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) weapon, it needs time on target to identify and destroy at tactical not strategic ranges. Lockheed martin and the US DoD are working together on a Program of enhancements and improvements to refine the HELIOS system before it enters full service.”

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