DARPA’s ABC of Airborne Lasers
In January 2013, Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, CA received a $9.5 million to cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification under the Aero-Adaptive/Aero-Optic Beam Control (ABC) Program.
To explain that term in plain English, turbulence and other atmospheric conditions can de-focus laser beams, limiting their range and effectiveness. A laser that can adapt its focus to the conditions in its path offers a way to mitigate these problems, which makes it a topic of keen interest to militaries around the world. The famous 747 Airborne Laser did some pioneering work in this field, but lasers have both defensive and offensive uses beyond Ballistic Missile Defense. In ABC’s case…
DARPA’s Aero-Adaptive/Aero-Optic Beam Control project is focused on the rear of an aircraft, which has special problems with turbulence. At the same time, the rear is also the likely direction of approach for incoming missiles. Large aircraft already mount rear-facing low power laser systems that use coded pulses to confuse incoming missiles. Eventually, the military hopes for compact solid-state lasers with enough power to destroy incoming threats, and enough beam flexibility to remain effective throughout its field of regard.
Phase 2 completed ABC’s preliminary design (HR0011-08-C-0090). This is Phase 3, in which Lockheed Martin will conduct a full scale flight test of an active flow control turret mounted on a business class sized jet. They’ll validate the turret requirements, design and predicted performance in flight, using representative optical paths and a scaled-down turret. An accompanying flow control actuator system will be designed, wind-tunnel tested and mounted to the test aircraft as government-furnished equipment.
Work will be performed in Sunnyvale, CA (39%); Fort Worth, TX (29%); and Orlando, FL (32%) until Sept 15/15. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency manages the contract (HR0011-13-C-0001).