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Unmanned aerial vehicles have gained wider presence in the laser weapon realm. Now, the US is looking to field a laser-armed unmanned aircraft to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) towards the middle of the next decade, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) disclosed.
The US MDA Advanced Technology Directorate said In a solicitation posted on the Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps) website it requires a high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with the payload capacity needed to carry a high-energy laser system payload to high altitudes for Boost Phase Intercept (BPI) of ICBMs in the 2023 timeframe.
“The results of this RFI [request for information] will inform future programme options for maturing BPI technology and capability following the current Low Power Laser Demonstrator (LPLD) effort. Proposed aircraft should be able to maintain continuous positive ground control and are expected to operate from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii and Edwards Air Force Base in California,” the solicitation read.
According to janes.com, while the MDA said it was seeking a HALE UAV for this role, it did note that manned concepts will be considered “with the appropriate justification”.
Performance specifications listed in the RFI call for the HALE UAV to be able to fly higher than 63,000 ft; to have an endurance of greater than 36 hours on-station (plus flight time for notional 3,000 km transit to station); to be able to fly at a cruise speed of less than Mach 0.45 at on-station altitude; to have a payload capacity of at least 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) and as much as 12,500 lb (5,670 kg); have power available for the payload of at least 140 kW and as much as 280 kW for greater than 30 minutes with no loss in platform altitude; and more.
According to scout.com, the US Air Force is increasing computer simulations and virtual testing for its laser-weapons program to accelerate development and prepare plans to arm fighter jets and other platforms by the early 2020s.
Aircraft-launched laser weapons could eventually be engineered for a wide range of potential uses, including air-to-air combat, close air support, counter-UAS (drone), counter-boat, ground attack and even missile defense, officials said.