How do you keep a bomber platform that’s well over a half century old current and effective? With frickin’ laser beams, of course.

From nationalinterest.org:

Air Force scientists are working to arm the B-52 with defensive laser weapons able to incinerate attacking air-to-air or air-to-ground missile attack.

Offensive and defensive laser weapons for Air Force fighter jets and large cargo aircraft have been in development for several years now. However, the Air Force Research Lab has recently embarked upon a special five-year effort, called the SHIELD program, aimed at creating sufficient on-board power, optics and high-energy lasers able to defend large platforms such as a B-52 bomber.

The idea is to retrofit the 65-year-old bomber design with an external POD and enough generating capacity to defeat incoming air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.

Defensive laser weapons could also be used to jam an attacking missile as well, developers explained.

“You may not want to destroy the incoming missile but rather throw the laser off course – spoof it,” (Air Force Chief Scientist Greg) Zacharias said.

Protecting airborne targets could become more difficult. While the Russian military is still widely considered generally inferior to American military capabilities — even after the Obama era draw-down, one area they’ve reportedly made significant progress and are pressing their advantage is in the area of anti-aircraft missile capability. We live in interesting times.

 

30 Responses to Air Force Working to Protect B-52s With Lasers

  1. B-52s worry about air to ground missiles?

    Who’da’thunk.

    Are they crewed on the tarmac?

    I’ve never driven one, but I think I’d worry more about ground to air missiles IF I WERE IN THE AIR

    • My thought as well, but consider … A B-52 on the tarmac could in principle then provide point defense against a2g missiles and artillery shells, depending on what the radar is set up for and where in the plane the laser is located.

      Not at all a trivial consideration, actually.

  2. I always thought the best defense against Air to Ground missiles was to get the bomber in the air.
    I assume that’s meant to be SAMs?

  3. Would be much cooler to use them to slice Jihadis in half.

    Imagine the scene of a field of Jihadis cleanly cut in half…that would induce quite a bit of psychological fear.

    • ….if the threat of dozens of 2000 lb Mark 84’s falling on their location? doesn’t make their asshole tighten up in fear then nothing will.

      • The BUFF can’t carry dozens of Mk84s, try 18 total.

        The Bone can carry 24, but they’d be fitted with JDAM tail kits. Boom.

        • I remember the Arc Light missions from the 1960’s involving three bombers in a group or “cell” unleashing rolling thunder in SE Asia.

          Do current bombing tactics no longer use multiple B52 s all dropping their payload together ? If so, that would be 54 2000lb Mark 84s which equals 4.5 dozen bombs. ?

        • It may have happened in the very early days of OEF (Oct-Dec ’01), as we collapsed caves on hoards of bad guys, but I doubt it. Even on large scale releases, they’d mostly be GBU-31s targeting specific coordinates. A string of MK-84s is at best a way of slinging bombs at a linear set of targets (a road, runway, railyard, etc). Prior to JDAM or LGB technology, quantity was the only way to account for delivery and targeting inaccuracies. “Precision” daylight bombing raids in WWII used dozens of B-17s to hit a single factory or POL plant. These days, you can pick which corner of each building you want to hit with what weapon type, select various fuse delays, etc. and do it all in one run.

          The spirit of a 3-ship of BUFFs doing a large scale release is certainly alive and well (reference recent B-2 strikes in Libya), but the increases in targeting accuracy have cut down the number of platforms and weapons required. The last bomber 3-ship I’m aware of was 3xB-1s in Syria almost 3yrs ago, but most strikes are single-ship, with the occasional 2-ship.

      • I’m not sure there- if the dude 100m to my front suddenly burst into flames with no apparent cause, I think I’d think twice about leaving whatever cover I had…

        • And you would not think twice about leaving cover if the body parts from the guy who had been 100m from you suddenly went flying past your head?

  4. I am guessing they are hoping to spoof IR seeking missiles, doubt if the laser will work semi-active radar homing. Guess flares are too costly, low profit margin for a beltway bandit to sell to DoD. Nice pic on the TASS site of Admiral FreezeurNutsoff and a Helix.

    • Char the radome. Flares are defeatable if the missile has good enough sensors and electronics. But if you burn out the sensors…

      Plus, as long as you have power you can’t run out of laser. You can run out of flares.

      • Billions of $/years blown by the AF on this pipedream. Perhaps if they can get that “Mr Fusion” working they can turn banana peels into the power required.

        • It’s not an easy thing to do. But the power supply isn’t the biggest challenge by far.

          The two big problems are getting enough laser power (or enough lasers linked together) to do the job fast enough, and getting that laser beam through the turbulent, always-changing atmosphere. A close third is getting rid of waste heat.

          And once you’ve done all that, you have the political side … any laser powerful enough to knock down a missile in flight, fast enough to be useful, is going to be a serious hazard to anyone within sight line who isn’t wearing laser goggles. We’ve already had a directed-energy weapon or two not be deployed because of the lawyers and politicians.

        • No one, you’ve forgotten what is actually the most important hurdle, getting the large power supply (with the requisite fuel supply) and laser system with all its targeting systems installed in the aircraft, and still have room left over for it to actually be useful.

          The navy has been playing around with lasers with some success, but they’re only fielded on nuclear powered ships for a reason, their ridiculously high power requirements. Any power supply capable of running it enough to be useful would be fairly large and heavy.

  5. Oh no! Another trillion dollar laser program that won’t work. It will likely be so heavy that the plane can’t fly or that it occupies the bomb bay entirely leaving no room for bombs. You’ll like this one, Senator Juan McStain.

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