U.S. Air Force to test Airborne High Energy Laser on AC-130J gunship

Lockheed Martin has successfully completed factory acceptance testing for the Airborne High Energy Laser (AHEL), which is set to be flight tested aboard the AC-130J aircraft next year.

The American aerospace company has already delivered the AHEL subsystem for integration with other systems in preparation for ground testing and, ultimately, flight testing aboard the AC-130J aircraft. It hopes to demonstrate the feasibility of adding this directed-energy weapon to the AC-130J’s already very diverse arsenal, which could give these aircraft a unique capability to engage ground targets silently and stealthily.

“Completion of this milestone is a tremendous accomplishment for our customer,” said Rick Cordaro, vice president, Lockheed Martin Advanced Product Solutions. “These mission success milestones are a testament of our partnership with the U.S. Air Force in rapidly achieving important advances in laser weapon system development. Our technology is ready for fielding today.”

In January 2019, Lockheed Martin received the contract to integrate, test, and demonstrate the AHEL on the AC-130J aircraft, with the laser system now set to go through ground testing ahead of the installation of the complete weapon system onto an AC-130J. In July 2021, the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division awarded Lockheed Martin a new $12 million indefinite-delivery, five-year contract award for technical services, integration, and demonstration for the AHEL system.

It remains unclear when exactly the flight testing of an AC-130J aircraft armed with the AHEL might begin; the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has consistently said it expects to kick off this phase of the project in Fiscal Year 2022, which began this month. SOCOM has also revealed that the power rating of the AHEL will be in the 60-kilowatt class.

Lockheed Martin’s press release does not reveal more information on the High Energy Laser system. We hope that the information will become available as it completes its ground testing.

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