Lockheed Martin has already delivered the completed AHEL laser to the Air Force, which will be tested with the AC-130J Ghostrider. The United States Air Force has long been working to make laser weapons a standard part of aircraft weaponry, and Lockheed Martin has been awarded a five-year contract in July to further develop, test and demonstrate the AHEL (airborne high energy laser) system to help achieve this. Development of the airborne high-energy laser has not just begun, with integration of the weapon into the AC-130J Ghostrider originally planned for much earlier, but the start of testing was delayed, with Drive saying this was because engineers had difficulty designing the device small enough to fit on board an aircraft.
Air-launched lasers are less powerful than their ship-mounted counterparts, with the Lockheed unit now being built at 60kW, while some members of the company’s HELIOS (High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance) system regularly outperform it in tests, and the LWSD (Laser Weapon System Demonstrator), unveiled last year, is much more powerful at 150kW.
But the AC-130J Ghostrider is still a formidable foe without the laser: the AC-130, an upgraded, more modern version of the C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft that entered service during the Vietnam War, is now a combat-ready modified version of the AC-130, and carries weapons of all shapes and sizes: In addition to a 105mm Howitzer Tarack, the aircraft is equipped with, among other things, a 30mm rapid-fire cannon, an AGM-176 Griffin guided missile and a GPS-guided glide bomb, the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.
The laser complements these and adds a new extra capability not previously available on other weapons, allowing the aircraft to strike targets silently and with extreme precision. The laser will be fitted to the aircraft in the coming weeks, but air tests will not begin until sometime next year, according to the US Special Operations Command.
Source: Lockheed Martin