The USAF Looks to Lasers

An air-to-air left front view of an AC-130 Hercules aircraft during target practice.
An air-to-air left front view of an AC-130 Hercules aircraft during target practice.

According to a recently published article in Popular Science. the United States Air Force is planning to deploy laser cannons on AC-130 Gunships as early as 2022. “The AC-130 is a battlefield giant, a large transport adapted to instead carry inside its cavernous belly. Right now, AC-130s are armed with a range of guns, rockets, cannons, missiles, and bombs, and it’s used them to support troops on the ground from Vietnam to Afghanistan. The latest version of the AC-130 in the works is scheduled to have a heavy cannon, but there’s the possibility of adding in a laser weapon on the last few made, provided the laser is ready.”

DARPA had been testing laser cannons to see if they were suitable for mounting on board modified USAF 747 jet liners as a means of destroying ICBMs during their boost phase. It had been widely believed that they were unable to miniaturize the weapon so that it would fit within the confines of a 747. If these reports are true, then they apparently did meet with some success, since an AC-130 is significantly smaller than a 747. Moreover, the report goes on to indicate that specially constructed laser pods can be slung beneath a sixth generation fighter jet, and perhaps a drone, but these measures still need further refinement and testing.

 
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