Delay forces rethink on USAF’s airborne laser

The US Air Force’s highly touted SHiELD airborne laser weapon has hit yet another setback, raising questions about the program’s long-term viability.

Due to “technical challenges” and the complications of the coronavirus pandemic, program head Jeff Heggemeier said the planned test of the fighter jet weapon has been delayed until 2023, reported Valerie Insinna of Defense News.

The Air Force’s Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator program, or SHiELD, had originally planned to conduct its first flight demonstration in 2021, said Heggemeier, SHiELD program manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“This is a really complex technology to try to integrate into that flight environment, and that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do with this program, is demonstrate that laser technology is mature enough to be able to integrate onto that airborne platform,” he told Defense News in a June 10 interview.

Air Force Magazine reported in 2019 that aerial demonstrations of SHiELD would occur onboard an F-15 fighter jet.

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