The US Air Force just got its first fighter-mounted laser weapon, a military advancement that can destroy missile electronics while indicating prospects for the development of offensive air-to-ground capabilities. The US defense contractor Lockheed Martin gave the US Air Force its first Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE) airborne laser weapon in February, according to a report this month by The Warzone.
What Can Lance Do During Combat?
The LANCE, according to Lockheed Martin, who developed the weapon, is one-sixth the size of the earlier laser weapons the company made for the US Army and has lower power needs, allowing it to be deployed inside a fighter belly pod. Although the maximum power of the LANCE has not been revealed, The Warzone calculates that it is less than 100 kilowatts. If LANCE is rendered successful in its defensive objectives, it might be possible that it can aid the development of various offensive-based laser weapons, such as those that can combat drones and aircraft at greater ranges compared to aiming for fast anti-aircraft missiles coming from the ground or air.
In addition to being significantly smaller and lighter than other previous weapons, LANCE also uses less power, which is important for a fighter-based laser since it can be deployed inside of a pod. The National Interest notes that fighter jet laser weaponry will be far faster than air-to-air missiles since they move at the speed of light, allowing for quicker attacks. A laser weapon could be programmed to destroy or just disable and cripple an enemy aircraft absolutely. Laser weapons are also capable of performing various forms of optical surveillance. Asia Times said that LANCE’s estimated power output might indicate that it will be used as a defensive weapon for disabling air-to-air missiles by damaging their sensitive seeker heads.
Is LANCE Good for Missile Defense?
LANCE might be effective against approaching air-to-air missiles, but it might not be adequate for missile defense, particularly in light of the growing threat posed by China’s and Russia’s hypersonic weaponry, as noted by Asia Times. Bahman Zohuri writes in his 2016 book “Directed Energy Weapons” that an air defense laser weapon intended to shoot down enemy missiles, helicopters, and aircraft should be in the megawatt range and must accurately target sensitive components. Additionally, the laser weapon must be able to deliver sustained fire until the target has been successfully demolished.
Although the LANCE’s mountable aircraft type is not yet known, Lockheed Martin concept art shows the weapon installed on an F-16 fighter. According to The National Interest, the F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters may be equipped with LANCE or other future weapons of a similar nature. LANCE was created by a contract signed in November 2017 and is a component of the Air Force’s larger Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator, or SHiELD. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman are working jointly on SHiELD. Northrop Grumman is in charge of the beam control system that places the laser on its target and maintains it there, while Boeing makes the pod that holds LANCE, which Lockheed Martin provides.