Laser Weapons On U.S. Fighter Jets By 2020, Says Air Force

Laser weapons on U.S. fighter jets may be a real thing by 2020, says the U.S. Air Force. To top it off, the jets might have a force field protection bubble.

If this sounds like something out of the new Star Wars movie, be prepared to be amazed. Weapons technology is advancing quickly, and laser weapons are no longer something only seen on screen. We may be a long way from lightsabers our troops can use, though.

According to HNGN, the Air Force Research Laboratory says the technology was appropriate in larger aircraft, but putting it to use on smaller aircraft was a real challenge. The supersonic speed, vibrations, and other issues prevented the technology to be used on fighter jets, but now advancements in technology have put the laser weapons in place for installation in the next few years.

Kelly Hammett, chief engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory's directed energy directorate, said, "It really is a national tipping point. We see the technology evolving and maturing to the stage where it really can be used."

The powerful laser weapons have great advantages to traditional weapons. Laser weapons can fire continuously, whereas traditional weapons rely on reloading and ammunition. As long as the laser has power or fuel available, the laser can shoot large bursts of energy, Hammett said.

"You could have an unlimited magazine... loitering aircraft that could address and access a wide variety of targets. Incredible precision strike capabilities could be enabled there."
The laser weapons will concentrate that energy and burn or ignite a target. Fighter jet laser weapons would use a certain type of laser called a solid state. The system creates laser beams by pooling energy into a solid crystalline material.

The lasers would likely be used on enemy cell towers or vehicles, and not enemy troops.

Laser weapons would likely not be used on enemy troops on the ground. [Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images]There is a law which protects people from being attacked using blinding lasers. An international treaty called the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons says, "It is prohibited to employ laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices."

However, the Pentagon says the U.S. is staying in the clear with the weapons it is constructing.

The USS Ponce already has a laser system on board. It can destroy small boats, drones, and small aircraft, according to Ars Technica.

USS Ponce
Laser weapons are already on board the USS Ponce. They are capable of destroying boats and small aircraft. [Photo by U.S. Navy/Getty Images]It is likely that other countries are interested in or already making advanced laser weapons as well, according to Hammett, but he would not name any countries which could be interested in or actually making the weapons.

The laser weapons, which are named the High-Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS), are reportedly being built by General Atomics.

The fighter jet bubble shield would surround the jet completely. Believe it or not, the bubble has already been successfully tested under Hammett at the Air Force Research Laboratory in partnership with Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, according to CNN.

The commander of Air Force Combat Command, Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, has previously said, "I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll see a prototype test case in the next year or two."

A stunning mix of futuristic and traditional weapons "a totally transformed battle space in 20 to 25 years," Hammett said.

[Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]