Air Force Calls for Airborne Electric Lasers That Can Target Land and Air

The challenge is packing the power of a chemical laser into an electric laser's smaller, more portable package

Skyborne chemical lasers have successfully shown off their potential killing power, and so the Air Force has now turned toward putting a more compact electric laser aboard its aircraft, Aviation Week’sAres Defense Blog reports.

The request by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory takes aim at developing a high-power electric laser that can fly aboard a bomber or gunship. Such a laser would also have the ability to strike ground targets and even engage in air-to-air self defense.

That latter part presumably refers to striking incoming air-to-air missiles, which may prove more challenging than blasting a ballistic missile. But it may also refer to simply burning down an enemy aircraft.

Electric Laser on Large Aircraft (ELLA) would represent a stepping stone toward the Air Force’s long-sought Next Generation Tactical Laser Weapon, which could eventually find its way to fighter-sized aircraft. The challenge rests with creating a powerful electric laser that packs the same punch as bulkier chemical lasers.

Existing chemical lasers such as the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) require a massive cargo plane like the C-130 to lift them into the sky, so no laser-outfitted F-22 Raptors will be flying around just yet. But at least the ATL can burn a pretty hole in ground vehicles.

[via Aviation Week’s Ares Defense Blog]