Board Takes Fast Track on Lasers

The Air Force Scientific Advisory Board decided to fast track its study on the service’s airborne laser program because of industry progress on the capability and to help Air Force Special Operations Command determine if it is reasonably possible to have a laser-equipped AC-130J in the near future. The board will evaluate if a gunship with a directed-energy weapon is feasible, focusing on the AC-130J and not on other initiatives, such as the Counter-electronics High-power microwave Advan?ced Missile Project (CHAMP) program, SAB chairman Werner Dahm said Oct 9. While industry has made strides in laser technology, Dahm acknowledged it still poses various issues, including heat management and jitter from an aircraft. “One of the bigger issues is this whole end-to-end integration from the laser itself all the way to employment the way AFSOC needs to be able to use it,” he said. “Depending on what’s technically possible, they may evolve their concept of employment. The question is, when all the smoke clears, is there a set of employment concepts that are operationally useful to AFSOC?” AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold said in September his command will have a laser-equipped AC-130J by 2020, calling it his “John F. Kennedy challenge.”