The most powerful lasers today probably wouldn't work that well as weapons. They have the energy needed to zap oncoming missiles. But, powered by enormous vats of chemicals, they're really too cumbersome to work in the battlefield.Solid state lasers don't have those logistical problems. Until recently, though, the energy they've generated has been pretty puny just 10 kilowatts or so, instead of the 100 kilowatts that most think are needed to make a workable weapon.Now, Aviation Week reports, the Defense Department is on track to demonstrate three, solid state laser designs that can hit the 25 kw mark by the end of the year. The goal is to reach 100 kw by 2006.If and when that target is hit, officials at the Air Force Research Laboratory "would like to put an SSL [solid state laser] in one bomb bay of a B-1B bomber and evaluate it as a missile defense self-protection system. A bomber-mounted laser also might be a viable weapon against soft targets, such as an aircraft on the ground."Eventually, an SSL weapon system could make its way into a next-generation fighter plane maybe even a drone aircraft. "But I think we can make an impact in the bomber fleet much quicker than we can in the fighter fleet," ARFL's laser chief tells Aviation Week.Solid-state lasers have "only became feasible recently," the magazine notes.
"A switch from flash- to diode-driven lasers was key, thanks to considerable investment by telecommunications companies -- which caused an explosion of laser diode production -- and [Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's] development of the National Ignition Facility (NIF). A huge complex for simulating the temperatures and pressures inside a thermonuclear detonation, NIF will focus 192 laser beams onto a small pellet of fusion material, delivering 500 trillion watts peak-power within a few billionths of a second.