1 November 2013
The Pentagon this week edged closer to mounting missile-destroying lasers on unmanned and manned aircraft, awarding $26 million to defense contractors to develop the technology.
Under the name Project Endurance, DARPA, the Department of Defense’s research agency, awarded Northrop Grumman $14.6 million and Lockheed Martin $11.4 million in contracts for the effort, according to Military & Aerospace Electronics. Called “Project Endurance,” the research will “develop technology for pod-mounted lasers to protect a variety of airborne platforms from emerging and legacy electro-optical IR guided surface-to-air missiles,” according to DARPA’s 2014 budget request.
The project focuses on “miniaturizing component technologies, developing high-precision target tracking, identification, and lightweight agile beam control to support target engagement,” as well as “the phenomenology of laser-target interactions and associated threat vulnerabilities.”
Those vulnerabilities have been a particular concern when it comes to slow-moving drones, whose job it is to loiter more than it is to evade, making them a potential easy target to be shot out of the sky.
In 2011, Iran claimed to have struck a RQ-170 Sentinel drone. Although the U.S. initially insisted the report was false, officials later acknowledged a drone had gone missing.
“We’ve asked for it back. We’ll see how the Iranians respond,” Obama said in a December 2011 press conference. However, a top Iranian military official said it had no intention of returning it.
“No nation welcomes other countries’ spy drones in its territory, and no one sends back the spying equipment and its information back to the country of origin,” Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of Iran’s military, told the semi-official Fars news agency, calling it “an act of invasion and belligerence.”
According to DARPA, the design phase of the laser technology will be completed by the end of its 2013 fiscal year. In 2014, fabrication, assembly and testing of the systems will occur with an eye toward full implementation in 2016.
Project Endurance evolved out of DARPA’s Excalibur program, which was
designed to “develop coherent optical phased array technologies to enable
scalable laser weapons that are 10 times lighter and more compact than existing
high-power chemical laser systems,” according to DARPA.