Sometimes, all a man needs is some peace and quiet while he’s doing his daily duties: mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges, and of course, shooting down highly advanced guided missiles.
Thankfully, there’s a tool for that.
Introducing SHiELD, the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator, a ground-based laser defense system used to destroy what are known as Air-to-Air missiles, or missiles fired from an aircraft that target other aircraft.
So far, as stated earlier, the system is ground-based, but in the future, the goal is to produce a version of SHiELD that can be attached to an F-15 Eagle fighter jet. The addition will surely change air warfare entirely once it is developed, and that could be as soon as next year.
For those who have yet to grasp the implications of such a device, think of this: modern fighter jets really have only a few means of defense against air-to-air missiles. They can use flares, which act as a decoy; they can use chaff, which confuses the guidance system, or they can use electronic warfare, which also essentially does the same thing. In fact, they all basically confuse the missile into missing its target, but none of them actually destroy the missile, and due to this fact, there is still a chance the warhead could cause some damage.
Now, this is where SHiELD comes in. SHiELD can target the missile directly, and either burn away at the outer shell of the missile, thereby ruining its aerodynamic capabilities; it can target the infrared sensor and blind the missile; or it could even ignite the propellant, blowing the missile out of the sky.
SHiELD would, for all intents and purposes, decimate any and all enemy missiles.
Currently, the problem is making the device usable by an aircraft. Lockheed Martin is spearheading the project, while Northrop Grumman is working on the beam control system. As for the pod that carries SHiELD, Boeing is fast on the task.
Mark Stephen, business development lead for strategic technology development at Lockheed Martin said in an interview with National Defense Magazine, “We’re committing to putting a laser pod equipped with a high-energy laser in the air within five years,”
But ensuring that the laser can accurately maintain a position on the intended target long enough to cause damage is also of great concern to the team. This involves working on a part of the device known as the beam director.
“The beam director is the optical system that puts the high-energy light on target and keeps it there with enough precision to defeat the threat,” Stephen explained.
“We spent several years developing producible, low-cost tactical beam directors in house.”
Once the F-15 has been outfitted, other aircraft are also intended to be equipped. SHiELD would be especially useful for less maneuvarable, larger aircraft, which make easy, slow targets for even the most inaccurate of guided missiles. Such aircraft on the waiting list are the C-130J, C-17, and C-5M transports, KC-135, KC-10, and K-46A aerial refueling tankers, and the E-3 Sentry AWACS plane.
But defense isn’t the only aim of the game. In the near-future, such a device paves the way for the long-awaited introduction of offensive laser systems. After all, if a wee little missile could be targeted by a laser travelling at 186,000 miles per second, imagine what such a weapon could do to an enemy fighter jet. It would be like Star Wars, minus the force.
Until then, I suppose we’ll have to settle for the regular old F-15, with it’s, rusty, antiquated 20 mm M61 Vulcan gatling gun and combination of four different air-to-air missile systems.