Airborne laser weapon: the US Special Operations Command aims for a demonstrator by 2022

After years of postponement and initially expected for fiscal year 2019, the prospect of integrating a laser weapon system into the vast array of armaments of the AC-130J Ghostrider gunship seems to be clarifying again and is now hoped for by 2022. Unveiled last May by Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), this program is likely to bring unprecedented tactical capabilities but whose outlines and scope of action remain uncertain. To fully understand the operational challenges underlying laser technology, which many say are revolutionary, it is important to understand how it works, its strengths but also its weaknesses.

The so-called laser weapons act by thermal effect and by the concentration of a laser beam on a surface, causing the latter to heat up to perforate it. They do not propel any matter but thermal energy. The more powerful this energy, the more important the targets can be processed. With a low cost of use, a laser shot can lose efficiency depending on climatic variations (fog, sandstorm, etc.) although it has a very high beam directivity on clear days, allowing it to '' reach very distant targets - up to several hundred kilometers in theory - with low energy dispersion and with a gradation of effects according to the needs and type of target (drone, aircraft, land vehicle, etc.) .

Carried out in August 2008, the first test shot of a “high energy chemical laser” (Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser) had previously taken place on a Lockheed Martin C-130H transport aircraft. With a range of around 20 kilometers, the device weighed between 5 to 7 tonnes.

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