The U.S. Air Force acknowledges “optical warfare” operations will be essential to future aerial victories and has accelerated the development of airborne “optical radiation weapons” for both offensive and defensive operations.
Developing new offensive and defensive weapons that advance the air force’s optical warfare capabilities will be the task of Virginia-based defense contractor Engility Corporation.
An $8.5 million contract will enable Engility to research into new applications allowing infrared, ultraviolet, lasers and visible light to be used as optical radiation weapons mounted onto combat aircraft. This project is part of the air force’s Optical Radiation Bioeffects and Safety (ORBS) program.
Optical warfare means using light instead of radio waves for weapons, communications, sensors, surveillance and defensive measures. It’s one aspect of the emerging military discipline called “spectrum warfare that includes electronic warfare and cyber warfare.
Much attention will be given to developing laser weapons that temporarily blind enemies and cause confusion. At the same time, however, the air force also requires protection from similar weapons deployed by Russia and China.
Existing lasers, however, are huge and difficult to mount onto aircraft and other military vehicles. In this regard, Engility’s job is to develop mobile laser weapons by April 2020.
Engility will also research into new ways to treat injuries (for example, eye injuries) caused by optical radiation. The company is also expected to develop a system for treating casualties of optical warfare, which includes triage, diagnosis and treatment.
The air force wants to begin testing a low-power laser on a Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft as a proof of concept to show the effectiveness of airborne lasers.
In July 2016, the air force said a Lockheed AC-130W Stinger II gunship belonging to the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) will test its first solid state laser mounted aboard a combat aircraft.
AFSOC wants to either install a 60 kW or a 120 kW solid state laser to be used for knocking-out stationary vehicles, aircraft and fixed communications sites such as radio towers.
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