US Air Force bids for laser-equipped attack planes

With President Trump now in power, funding may no longer be an issue.

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Lockheed Martin

US military officials are gunning for modifications to offensive planes to make them capable of using lasers in warfare.

Last week, US Air Force leaders met at the annual AirWarfare Symposium to discuss next-generation and new technologies for the military. According to Air Force Special Operations Command chief Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, the current top priority mission is to secure funding to load and test lasers on an AC-130 military craft.

As noted by Defense One, Webb said he was "optimistic" about the future of such a project, especially as "there are a lot of vendors that are really contributing to and continue to push that technology along."

The laser project has been floated for a number of years as a way to prepare for threats in the future. Back in 2015, former Air Force Special Operations head Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold said that installing high-energy lasers could not only act offensively but also be used to shoot down surface-to-air missiles threatening other US craft.

According to Heithold, having at least "four or five" modified laser-wielding airplanes "would help" in defensive actions.

This is not the first foray into laser weapon technologies for the Pentagon. In 2009, Boeing demonstrated a C-130 using an Advanced Tactical Laser to burn a hole in the roof of a vehicle.

However, the development of efficient lasers suitable for combat has a long way to go. To begin with, Webb says that a C-130 will be equipped with a low-powered laser as a proof-of-concept, and then if it proves accurate and effective, the US military will go from there.

Funding has been scarce, but reportedly enough money is already in the piggy bank to begin designing proof-of-concept components. In addition, now President Trump is calling for a military budget increase of $54 billion, if the new president has his way, there will likely be funding for the taking.

If laser aircraft are going to enter warfare, however, questions relating to ethics and law will also have to be discussed.

"At some point [..] a policy discussion is going to have to be had on where and how can you use a laser and where and where and how can you not," Webb said. "But I think that's a discussion to be had further down the road."

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