Lockheed Shows Off Ground-Based Laser System

Lockheed Martin's Athena laser weapon system defeats a truck target by disabling the engine, demonstrating its military effectiveness against enemy ground vehicles. (Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin)Lockheed Martin's Athena laser weapon system defeats a truck target by disabling the engine, demonstrating its military effectiveness against enemy ground vehicles. (Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin Corp. showed off its new ground-based laser weapon at this week’s Army expo in Washington, D.C.

The Bethesda, Maryland-based company displayed its 30-kilowatt Advanced Test High Energy Asset at the annual conference of the Association of the United States Army, an Arlington, Virginia-based advocacy group for the service.

The fiber optic laser drew curious onlookers throughout the three-day event. Called Athena, it recently entered production for the Army and could enter the combat zone next year.

The weapon is also designed to take out small rockets, artillery shells and mortars, small unmanned aerial vehicles and small attack boats, according to the company. Using a technique called spectral beam combining, multiple laser modules form a single, powerful beam, according to the company.

Lockheed earlier this year announced that it had successfully field-tested the technology by burning a hole through the running engine of truck in seconds from more than a mile away (see photo above).

“Fiber-optic lasers are revolutionizing directed energy systems,” Keoki Jackson, Lockheed Martin chief technology officer, said in a press release at the time. “This test represents the next step to providing lightweight and rugged laser weapon systems for military aircraft, helicopters, ships and trucks.”

The technology is based on the Area Defense Anti-Munitions (ADAM) laser weapon developed for small airborne and sea-based targets and incorporates Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative (Aladin) fiber laser, according to the company.

In addition to the ground service, the Air Force and Navy are also interested in finding ways to equip their platforms with laser weapons.

This summer, the Air Force and the Pentagon’s research arm began ground testing a 150-kilowatt-class electric laser built by General Atomics against rockets, mortars, vehicles and surrogate surface-to-air missiles at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The project, known as the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System, or DLWS, is based on Darpa’s High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System, or Hellads.

In September, Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command, said he wants to put a 120-kilowatt laser weapon on a next-generation AC-130J Ghostrider gunship by the end of the decade.

And last year, the Navy tested a 20-kilowatt laser aboard the amphibious transport ship USS Ponce.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • GoSpeed Racer

    An even quicker way to disable a truck is to lase the cabin of the vehicle blinding and burning the occupants.

    • NathanS

      According to the UN convention (to which the US is a signatory), it is illegal to use laser weapons to blind. But destroy the helicopter that the enemy is using; causing them to crash and die anyway; that’s fine.

    • harleyman

      we had 2 man laser rifles in Vietnam days…but they were impractical because the battery pack was so heavy and it had a direct connect to the rifle the other man was using. and as Anit-aircraft, it has been around on the backs of halftracks for decades. they are nothing new…I built laser pistol in 1960.. the problem has ALWAYS been a practical power source small enough and powerful enough to make them really usable.

  • Bernard

    A laser that can do that to a truck? We really are in the future!

    • Mark

      With certain lasers today we can burn through 20 feet thick steel in just 1 second. <----- now that is impressive.

      • d kellogg

        Seriously? Who even is capable of forging 20foot thick steel?

        Layers of plates, yes.
        But there is no laser built yet that can heat that much steel of any alloy to melt/pierce/bore thru 20feet it in 1 second.
        You couldn’t even do 20feet of aluminum or even tin in that time. There is just too much heat dissipation in that much metal, preventing any possible current technology manmade lasers at any power level we can pump into it, from boring a hole thru it in 1 second.

        Reality check please.
        Only in Hollywood.

      • spartan

        Fiction.

  • William A. Peterson

    I’m a little curious as to why this GROUND based weapon system hit the HOOD of the car, burned a hole in it, and (it seems) set the engine on fire… For a test firing, wouldn’t it make more sense to fire it straight on? Perhaps the components on top are more vulnerable to laser attacks than the Engine Block itself?

    • d kellogg

      If it can burn thru a hood, the soft metal of a front grill and finned radiator shouldn’t offer much more resistance, should it?

      • Beno

        Radiator hole wont stop a car very quickly.

        Suggest. they were frying the electrics by simply melting the HT leads.

        or melting the fuel line carb

        Hell theres is allot on top of an engine that will make it stop fairly quickly

        Does unfortunately point to the idea its not “raw stopping power” that killed the target. However UAV’s are thin skinned with even more touchy interiors, so this weapon definatly has potential.

  • Stan

    A 100+ kw laser needs to be made a priority 1 upgrade for the F-35, assuming it can be done at all. If properly executed, with at least 2 beam directors covering the back and the front of the plane its apparent maneuverability deficiencies would become completely moot. And considering the far greater carrying capacity of the next generation bomber as well as its ridiculous price, it should be designed with provisions for carrying a laser from the get go. There is your boost phase ballistic missile intercept and self escort.

    • d kellogg

      We already can’t get a real gun in the F-35 to be declared service operational for the next 3 or 4 years. How long before we would even see a directed energy weapon instead instead? 2030? 2035?
      There is a recent article in Aviation Week & Space Technology, concerning the hazards of laser weapons. One key concern is the “clear to fire” problem: you may have an intentional target, but if you miss or burn thru, how far yet is the damaging potential of the beam going to carry beyond where you intended to fire? Missiles and bullets run out of kinetic energy and crash or destruct. There’s a whole new set of collateral concerns when we start bringing hard kill lasers into the equation of war.

      • t1oracle

        That’s not a problem. If you can fire a laser at the target then you can use a laser range finder. Detecting burn through would be trivial.

      • Stan

        The “clear to fire” issue does not stop the use of other ordnance as far as I know. And with lasers it’s possible to estimate the attenuations based on atmospheric conditions. No explosive leftovers there.

  • Dakota

    “Using a technique called spectral beam combining, multiple laser modules form a single, powerful beam.”

    Death Star confirmed.

    • spurlockda

      That’s the first thought I had too!

  • Monkee

    It’s actually against Geneva convention to fire a 50cal at a an enemy combatant but your told to fire at their LBE straps. Shooting equipment is ok.

    • t1oracle

      LOL I’ve heard that one before. http://www.stripes.com/blogs/the-rumor-doctor/the

      • Joe Sovereign

        I had always heard that is was the multi-purpose ammo fired from the .50 that made it questionable. Small caliber explosive bullets being banned in the same way expanding bullets (soft or hollow-point) are banned. 50 Cal Full metal jacket rounds are legal without question.

        A quick Google search does not really clear things up.

  • anomyous coward

    00:56:20 Dantooine is too remote to make an effective demonstration.
    00:56:23 But don’t worry. We will deal with your rebel friends soon enough.
    00:56:30 Commence primary ignition.
    00:56:54 Are you all right? What’s wrong?
    00:56:57 I felt a great disturbance in the Force…

    • d kellogg

      00:57:15 (deleted scene) I REALLY gotta learn to lay off that cantina food.

  • Patriot on a String

    LOL…. Even with battery and laser technology ever advancing… 150 KW… That’s the beam strength per millisecond at its point of apriture not the amount of electricity to startup… Build.. And intensify… Then fire.. Hold objection… Or on target over a specified distance. They hide the power sources at these demonstrations and as of yet can not make a mobile demonstrator at that strength… Thus the 25 KW test…. Then they are not giving specifics on spread concentrations over a distance.. They Defense Contractors love to display videos and stir up Star Wars and Star Trek dreams for the money… Can lasers be defeated? Yes!!! The USS Ponce was used because of its enormous space to contain the battery systems and power generators… Keep Dreaming and wasting millions… KISS (KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID) still applies and it still comes down to boots on the ground…

  • Guest

    30% efficiency on this means it would take around 100KW of power to generate a 30KW beam. Also at high power levels a plasma gets generated where the beam strikes. This plasma acts as a temporary block to cutting. Solution? Less power per square, but still concentrated in a small diameter area. Blow a big enough hole in something and it will fail.

    • d kellogg

      We’re not talking about body temperature blood plasma here: but rather true “physics plasma” (that oddly behaving 4th state of matter) created via thermal reactions, very high temperature thermally accelerated particles on a surface (or within a structure) that, 9 chances out of 10, were never built to consider surviving temperatures like that. Plasma in a physics sense (form of matter, not body fluid) can have its own catastrophic destructive effects, just as much as the other end of that spectrum where we have people touting the (still mostly theoretical) benefits of things like plasma stealth, plasma force fields (or rather, a protective envelope of highly charged particles, not so much as an actual repulsive/absorptive/ablative EM field like Hollywood shows us).

      Anyone who’s ever used high temperature welding knows plasma torches can be used for destruction, cutting thru steel beams where mechanical power tools are not an option. Plasma as a warfare weapon though, highly unlikely anytime soon (1/2 century…?) because of all the other physics needed to not only create a via mass of plasma to guarantee effective destruction on a target, but also a means to get it intact enough to the target to do sufficient damage.

  • spartan

    How come they don’t mention the time it took to make that hole?

    20 minutes? 40 minutes? 60 minutes +?

    • Michael Anderson

      The article states, “…burning a hole through the running engine of truck in seconds from more than a mile away…”

    • Michael Anderson

      The article states, “…burning a hole through the running engine of truck in seconds from more than a mile away…”

      • jbizzy

        yes, how many?