US military bigwigs gathered in Orlando this week for the annual AirWarfare Symposium to discuss big plans for big weapons that do big damage. According to a report, the biggest unfunded project that US Special Operations Command hopes to push through is a C-130 that's equipped with a power laser weapon.
An AC-130. Photo: Getty
Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command tells Defence One that he's very optimistic about the project. "There are a lot of vendors that are really contributing to and continue to push that technology along," he says.
The project has been floating around as a potential R&D effort for years. Back in 2015, Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold, who was then head of Air Force Special Operations Command, told Breaking Defence that he believes "we can put a high energy laser — offensive and defensive — on an AC-130 by the close of this decade."
Webb says that the Airborne Laser program that attempted to out a defensive laser on the nose of a 747 jetliner had turned defence officials off of the technology. It never made it past it to the stage of actually producing an operational aircraft and it was canceled in 2012.
But according to Webb, things have changed and as technology has improved, the project could get off the ground soon. First, "a relatively low-kilowatt laser" will need to be tested and the money is reportedly already in place for that.
Lasers have been demonstrated by Boeing to be capable of burning a hole in the hood of a truck and the U.S.S. Ponce was given permission to use its Laser Weapon System (LaWS) prototype as a defensive weapon. Likewise, the plan is for C-130 aeroplanes to use the weapon as anti-ballistic missile defence that could be capable of offensive measures.
Webb also acknowledged that "At some point ... a policy discussion is going to have to be had on where and how can you use a laser where and how can you not."
With the White House calling for an increase of $US54 ($71) billion to the defence budget, it's possible that the project could find the funding. But that budget will have to get past congress and everyone in government is pretty tied up with investigating endless scandals right now.