On Tuesday, the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland AFB, N.M., awarded Northrop Grumman a $39.3 million contract to develop a beam control system to be used in a projected fighter aircraft pod that would make defensive use of lasers to destroy incoming anti-aircraft weaponry. Work will be performed at Kirtland and Redondo Beach, Calif., and will be completed by Aug. 31, 2021. The beam control system, developed as part of the Shield Turret Research in Aero-Effects (STRAFE) program, functions as “an extremely cost effective way to increase the energy delivered to the target for a tactical laser weapon,” according to Northrop Grumman. This contract represents the next stage in the Defense Department’s long-term goal of incorporating directed energy into the next generation of military weapons across the services. A total of $9.2 million in Fiscal 2016 research, development, test, and evaluation funds are being obligated at the time of award. Northrop beat out two unnamed competitors for the contract. (See also Silent Sabotage and Laser Focused on National Defense.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.