Duck and Cover! Lockheed, DARPA Test Jet-Based Laser Turret

Duck and Cover! Lockheed, DARPA Test Jet-Based Laser Turret

DARPA Lockheed Martin Laser 310x

The Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control, or ABC, has a 360-degree view of incoming threats.

How many sci-fi properties have lasers or blasters bolted onto aircraft or spacecraft? Too many to count, but that kind of offensive/defensive weaponry is getting a serious look from DARPA, and U.S.-based defense contractors alike.

Lockheed Martin, the same contractor behind the struggling F-35 and F-22 fighter programs, has teamed up with DARPA, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and the University of Notre Dame on "ABC," or the Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control system.

Simply put? ABC is a laser turret mounted to an airplane. The test plane, seen to the right, has the ABC sphere mounted in a way that gives the turret a 360-degree view of the world, allowing the weapon to "engage enemy aircraft and missiles above, below and behind the aircraft." Lockheed Martin says components of the ABC system factor in weather conditions and turbulence (see "flow control" and "optical compensation") when in use, allowing the turret to operate in less-than-ideal flying conditions.

The test craft is a French-built Dassault Falcon 10, an older business jet-minded platform that was produced in the 1970's and 80's.

The system has seen eight flight tests so far, with more scheduled in 2014 and 2015. All the included hardware has been approved by both the U.S. Air Force, and the FAA.

If the tests go well? The next step would be to outfit some sort of fourth- or fifth-generation fighter jet with an ABC turret. An F-16 or F-35 with a laser beam attached to it's nose or belly? That's mighty dangerous (so long as you can get the F-35 to fly).

Sources: Lockheed Martin | Foxtrot Alpha

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You'd think it would have a greater field of vision if they mounted it in the nose cone. Oh well, the experts have probably considered that and rules it out already.

The article from Foxtrot Alpha suggests switching out a fuel tank or lift fan from the F-35's for this system. Interesting, to say the least, and it might help toward getting a return on that expensive investment.

Barbas:
You'd think it would have a greater field of vision if they mounted it in the nose cone. Oh well, the experts have probably considered that and rules it out already.

The article from Foxtrot Alpha suggests switching out a fuel tank or lift fan from the F-35's for this system. Interesting, to say the least, and it might help toward getting a return on that expensive investment.

Other, older laser test planes have had the laser mounted on the nose. My guess (and it's only a guess) is that the laser on the nose would have a more adverse impact on aerodynamics than mounting it on the side of the plane.

-Devin Connors
Tech Editor, Living Laser Beam

Barbas:
You'd think it would have a greater field of vision if they mounted it in the nose cone. Oh well, the experts have probably considered that and rules it out already.

The article from Foxtrot Alpha suggests switching out a fuel tank or lift fan from the F-35's for this system. Interesting, to say the least, and it might help toward getting a return on that expensive investment.

Well it can't shoot things behind the aircraft from the nose.

and it looks like knocking out an exit door was cheaper then cutting a hole in the top or bottom.
It's also mounted on a 40 year old aircraft that cost less then a million USD, I have a feeling they are working on a tiny budget.
Well for a DARPA project anyway.

Barbas:
You'd think it would have a greater field of vision if they mounted it in the nose cone. Oh well, the experts have probably considered that and rules it out already.

The article from Foxtrot Alpha suggests switching out a fuel tank or lift fan from the F-35's for this system. Interesting, to say the least, and it might help toward getting a return on that expensive investment.

Hard to find room in the nose considering that is where the radar goes (and pretty much must) but mounting it on the bottom of the fuselage somewhere probably makes sense. Gimping the F-35's already mediocre range for even more experimental technology just seems to be asking for trouble, though.

Also, since when was C&C Generals DARPA's plan for the future?

What I want to know is... once we get all the sci-fi gadgets in real life, what will sci-fi be about? Right now we're watching a movie and we think 'damn, I wish I had something that cool.' in the future it'll be 'meh, whatever. those are 4.59 at wallmart.'

Devin Connors:
Other, older laser test planes have had the laser mounted on the nose. My guess (and it's only a guess) is that the laser on the nose would have a more adverse impact on aerodynamics than mounting it on the side of the plane.

-Devin Connors
Tech Editor, Living Laser Beam

Lockheed's technology can apparently minimize the adverse effects on the craft's aerodynamics...but now I think about it, @direkiller:'s point is a pretty good one - just popping out a door and sticking one of these things in for testing is probably cheaper and more sensible. It'd look cool in the nosecone, but ripping out the radar (derp, I was wondering where that stuff went) would proabably be putting the cart before the majestic, flying horse.

direkiller:
Well it can't shoot things behind the aircraft from the nose.

and it looks like knocking out an exit door was cheaper then cutting a hole in the top or bottom.
It's also mounted on a 40 year old aircraft that cost less then a million USD, I have a feeling they are working on a tiny budget.
Well for a DARPA project anyway.

That does seem like a cheaper and more sensible solution right now than ripping out a lot of the machinery from the nose. Hole in the floor...that got me thinking of the old Douglas Dakotas the Parachute Regiment used in WWII. Terrible idea, would fly like a brick, but it'd look baller if they Frankenwelded one a' those sum-bitches onto the underside of one.

micuu:
Hard to find room in the nose considering that is where the radar goes (and pretty much must) but mounting it on the bottom of the fuselage somewhere probably makes sense. Gimping the F-35's already mediocre range for even more experimental technology just seems to be asking for trouble, though.

Also, since when was C&C Generals DARPA's plan for the future?

They might get a bit more use out of the F-35 if it can be reasonable easily equipped with something like this to shoot down incoming missiles. Now that, I'd frankly be stoked to see. I'd also like to see what this converted plane looks like on the inside. I bet there ain't much room to manoeuvre around now...

Shouldn't we be mounting these on helicopters to take down RPG's? When was the last time we lost a jet aircraft to enemy fire?

If and when this tech ends up in fighter aircraft, it will be an integrated design. So a dedicated F-35 variant with a laser, not just a current-spec F-35 with one shoehorned in. That's my take.

-Devin Connors

I kinda doubt this tech will ever end up in a fighter - at least not in its first incarnation. Instead, imagine a purpose-built jet designed to accompany a fighter group (squadron? wing? bah, terminology) and provide anti-missile capabilities.

Pyrian:
Shouldn't we be mounting these on helicopters to take down RPG's? When was the last time we lost a jet aircraft to enemy fire?

OT: So, they've solved things like power and resource costs for mass-production of these things? The future's looking pretty damn awesome.

Barbas:
You'd think it would have a greater field of vision if they mounted it in the nose cone. Oh well, the experts have probably considered that and rules it out already.

The article from Foxtrot Alpha suggests switching out a fuel tank or lift fan from the F-35's for this system. Interesting, to say the least, and it might help toward getting a return on that expensive investment.

Which version of the F-35? The STOVL one will not have room. Period. The others may have though... just what will that do to the stealthiness of the acft?

The good thing about it is that, depending on it's effectiveness, it may negate the need for self-defense air to air weapons, which will increase it's ground attack options. That would mean that it will be able to be more self dependant on solo bombing missions as long as it remains stealthy!

Elementary - Dear Watson:

Barbas:
You'd think it would have a greater field of vision if they mounted it in the nose cone. Oh well, the experts have probably considered that and rules it out already.

The article from Foxtrot Alpha suggests switching out a fuel tank or lift fan from the F-35's for this system. Interesting, to say the least, and it might help toward getting a return on that expensive investment.

Which version of the F-35? The STOVL one will not have room. Period. The others may have though... just what will that do to the stealthiness of the acft?

The good thing about it is that, depending on it's effectiveness, it may negate the need for self-defense air to air weapons, which will increase it's ground attack options. That would mean that it will be able to be more self dependant on solo bombing missions as long as it remains stealthy!

The A and C model could apparently mount one above and one below if the fans were removed. The fuel tanks could be removed to house the inner workings of the laser system. Not sure where the fuel tanks would go then, but even if its range was too limited to defend itself, it might be useful for cooking rockets before they were launched at Israel or destroying them in mid-air. Someone in the comments section on Foxtrot Alpha suggested putting one in the ISS to clear debris from the Earth's orbit. That alone would be a fantastic application.

Barbas:

Elementary - Dear Watson:

Barbas:
You'd think it would have a greater field of vision if they mounted it in the nose cone. Oh well, the experts have probably considered that and rules it out already.

The article from Foxtrot Alpha suggests switching out a fuel tank or lift fan from the F-35's for this system. Interesting, to say the least, and it might help toward getting a return on that expensive investment.

Which version of the F-35? The STOVL one will not have room. Period. The others may have though... just what will that do to the stealthiness of the acft?

The good thing about it is that, depending on it's effectiveness, it may negate the need for self-defense air to air weapons, which will increase it's ground attack options. That would mean that it will be able to be more self dependant on solo bombing missions as long as it remains stealthy!

The A and C model could apparently mount one above and one below if the fans were removed. The fuel tanks could be removed to house the inner workings of the laser system. Not sure where the fuel tanks would go then, but even if its range was too limited to defend itself, it might be useful for cooking rockets before they were launched at Israel or destroying them in mid-air. Someone in the comments section on Foxtrot Alpha suggested putting one in the ISS to clear debris from the Earth's orbit. That alone would be a fantastic application.

Hmmm... Sounds like it would definitely lose the stealth, or the reach of the acft then if it went for it now... Then again, wait a few years and it should be smaller! I would imagine it would lose the stealth through the glass... Unless you could make a material that reflects RADAR but lets out laser... I'm not a physicist, but that sounds implausible.

The debris idea is fantastic though... There are some very bad things that could come of that, but clearing the debris at LEO would be a great help!

Barbas:
You'd think it would have a greater field of vision if they mounted it in the nose cone. Oh well, the experts have probably considered that and rules it out already.

The article from Foxtrot Alpha suggests switching out a fuel tank or lift fan from the F-35's for this system. Interesting, to say the least, and it might help toward getting a return on that expensive investment.

Id be guessing its a factor of weight. weight is very important for aircraft, and so far the only mobile laser turrets that we know off takes a tank to move around (mostly energy generation that weighs it down though). so putting that weight in a nose tip may not be viable with current aircraft flying techniques.

 

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