General Atomics to power UAV-based lasers that target enemy ballistic missiles in boost phase

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Power electronics experts at the General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems group in San Diego are joining a project to help the U.S. military develop a laser weapon for a future unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to destroy enemy ballistic missiles shortly after launch.

Nov 20th, 2017
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Power electronics experts at the General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems group in San Diego are joining a project to help the U.S. military develop a laser weapon for a future unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to destroy enemy ballistic missiles shortly after launch.

Officials of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) in Albuquerque, N.M., announced a $8.9 million contract to General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems for the first phase of the Low Power Laser Demonstrator (LPLD) project.

The LPLD project is to develop enabling technologies in preparation for developing and testing a future high-energy laser weapon for a high-altitude UAV that will seek to destroy enemy ballistic missiles in boost phase.

General Atomics is joining the Lockheed Martin Corp. Space Systems segment in Sunnyvale, Calif., for LPLD phase one. Lockheed Martin won a $9.4 million contract on 5 Oct. to build a low-power laser prototype to help establish beam stability at long range and the ability to dwell on one spot of a ballistic missile-sized target.

General Atomics and Lockheed Martin will perform the next step for the LPLD effort, which is to addresses laser power and aperture size by integrating and testing a low-power laser on a UAV.

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Lockheed Martin has expertise in high-energy laser weapons, while General Atomics has expertise in advanced electromagnetic and electric power generation technologies to harness electric power efficiently.

General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems specializes in high-voltage capacitors for direct current, pulsed power, high-frequency alternating current, and pulsed power systems powerful enough to support future railgun applications and all-electric aircraft carrier catapults.

The company also specializes in power-management and energy-storage technologies. Another segment of the company, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in Poway, Calif., also designs UAVs such as the Predator, Reaper, Gray Eagle, and Avenger UAVs.

The ability to destroy enemy ballistic missiles in boost phase is particularly beneficial because with one shot it could destroy multiple independently targeted missile warheads, as well as decoys designed to foil missile defenses.

General Atomics and Lockheed Martin are the two LPLD contractors chosen this year who, if successful in the program's first phase, will move on to a technology demonstration in the LPLD program's second phase.

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In the yearlong first phase General Atomics and Lockheed Martin will perform system design, and in the second phase will build, integrate, and test a functional low-power laser for beam control and stability. MDA officials anticipate a low-power flight test by 2020 and beam stability testing by 2021.

Lessons learned from the LPLD project are expected to help government and industry experts develop solid-state lasers strong enough to destroy enemy ballistic missiles in boost phase from UAVs operating at high altitudes.

The LPLD project's low-power laser demonstrator should help military and defense industry experts understand how to use high-altitude UAVs to destroy missiles in boost phase with lasers, and ways to aim the laser, keep it steady on target, and focus the laser sufficiently to destroy the missile at it leaves the launch pad.

On this contract General Atomics will do the work in San Diego and Poway, Calif. Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, will do its LPLD phase-one work in Sunnyvale and Palo Alto, Calif., Louisville, Colo.; and Albuquerque, N.M.. Both companies should be finished by July 2018.

For more information contact General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems online at www.ga.com/ems, Lockheed Martin Space Systems at www.lockheedmartin.com/us/ssc.html, or the Missile Defense Agency at www.mda.mil.

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