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During the series of tests at the High Energy Laser System Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range, the Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS), acting as a ground-based test surrogate for the SHiELD system, was able to engage and shoot down several air launched missiles in flight. The demonstration is an important step of the SHiELD system development, by validating laser effectiveness against the target missiles. The final SHiELD system, however, will be much smaller and lighter, as well as ruggedized for an airborne environment. Courtesy photo via AFRL.

An early test of an experimental system that serves as the precursor to a fighter jet’s laser weapon successfully shot down multiple air-launched missiles last month, the Air Force Research Laboratory said Friday.

The Air Force’s Self-Protect High-Energy Laser Demonstrator program, known as SHiELD, on April 23 reached a key milestone when a ground-based test asset completed a series of tests at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The Demonstrator Laser Weapon System downed “several air-launched missiles in flight,” according to an AFRL release that did not specify which missiles were used. While it was vetted on the ground, more mature versions of the laser will go through airborne testing.

“The demonstration is an important step of the SHiELD system development, by validating laser effectiveness against the target missiles,” the laboratory said. “The final SHiELD system, however, will be much smaller and lighter, as well as ruggedized for an airborne environment.”

SHiELD aims to create a podded laser weapon for the F-15 that is powerful enough to protect the aircraft from incoming surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. A high-power flight demonstration is expected by fiscal 2021.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman are each under contract for different parts of the laser development, including a beam-control system, the laser itself, and the pod that holds it.

The Air Force has also considered trying out the pod on mobility aircraft, and in January said it is already thinking about more powerful ideas that could come after SHiELD.