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UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Air Force Research Laboratory, Office of Public Affairs
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Directed Energy Study Kicks Off


June 26, 1998
DE RELEASE NO. 98-32
CONTACT: Rich Garcia
PHONE: (505) 846-1911


WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Looking at new airborne uses for laser weapons is among the aims of a new Air Force study that kicked off here recently, headed by retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman.

More than 200 representatives from the Air Force and industry attended the kickoff.

Titled Directed Energy Applications for Tactical Airborne Combat, or DE ATAC for short, the study has two primary objectives. The first is to identify promising ways in which directed energies, such as lasers, can be used from airborne platforms in tactical roles. A second objective is to identify what the Air Force needs to do, technologically, to develop these weapons, keeping in mind costs versus effectiveness.

Commenting on the study and his role as its director, Fogleman said, "I believe that directed-energy weapons will be fundamental to the way the Air Force fights future wars. This study, which I am pleased to be a part of, will help prepare us for the changing face of warfare. It is an important step in pursuing the potential of directed-energy technologies."

According to Study Leader Bill Thompson of the Directed Energy Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., "We’ll be looking exclusively at directed-energy concepts at a range of power levels, to address weapon and mission-support applications. We’ll also be considering a variety of airborne mediums, from manned aircraft to remotely piloted vehicles. In the early phases of this study, we will be taking into consideration previous relevant studies."

Twenty years ago, the Air Force showed an interest in putting directed-energy weapons in aircraft. This led to work in the early 1980s, when the Air Force conducted experiments with the Airborne Laser Laboratory: a laser-carrying KC-135 aircraft that used its laser to shoot down five air-to-air Sidewinder missiles and a BQM-34 target drone. The Air Force is currently working on the Airborne Laser program, putting a weapons-class laser in a Boeing 747 cargo aircraft and using the system to destroy attacking theater ballistic missiles.

Thompson explained that the current study is being conducted in two phases: "A concept definition phase will consider a range of potential applications, determining requirements and constraints for each. Directed energy technology concepts will then be defined to meet requirements and constraints of each application."

"At the end of the first phase," said Thompson, "the study group will identify the most promising applications and technology concepts, considering technical feasibility, platform impact, mission priority, and potential for cost-effective implementation. Then in a concept development and evaluation phase, the study participants will reconvene to further develop and evaluate the selected concepts from the first phase."

"The final results of the study will hopefully identify and justify high-payoff concepts for future warfighting, and produce technology development and demonstration roadmaps to enable concept reality," noted Thompson. The first phase is expected to take three months, with the entire study slated to end next February.

The Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate will head the study with support from the laboratory’s Propulsion, Air Vehicles, Sensors, and materials Directorates. Air Force Materiel Command headquarters and the Aeronautical Systems Center, both here, are also participating. Operational commands, logistic and product centers are expected to participate as the study progresses.