October 5, 2006 The world’s first firing of a laser using recycled fuel was conducted by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate and Boeing recently, and the success of the tests suggest a major breakthrough for lasers in general and for affordable and low risk military weapons applications. During the test, a chemical laser was supplied with its two main fuels (basic hydrogen peroxide and chlorine) which were regenerated from waste products produced during prior laser operations. Testers fired the laser at high power, in the order of several kilowatts, proving its performance. This breakthrough substantially improves warfighting logistics as it removes the need to dispose of used fuel, and as the fuel recycling process can be continued indefinitely, it provides a practical way to fuel laser weapons without costly and complex fuel resupply to the battlefield or to an aircraft.
The test was conducted at the directorate’s Davis Advanced Laser Facility where the regenerated fuels were produced in miniaturized electrochemical reactions that were specifically designed to collect the waste products of laser operations and convert them to fresh fuel.
The chemical laser used in the demonstration was a testbed similar to the laser device that was designed for the Advanced Tactical Laser, a major Department of Defense technology project. It involves an Air Force C130 cargo aircraft that will carry the laser, which is intended to destroy, damage or disable ground targets with surgical precision, causing little to no collateral damage.
The Boeing Company, Directed Energy Systems (formerly the Laser & Electro Optical Systems business segment) of Canoga Park, Calif. is the prime contractor for the Advanced Tactical Laser. The Air Force’s Directed Energy Directorate, is providing Boeing with technical expertise and support on the project. Working through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, the directorate is also working with Boeing to develop advanced technologies that are intended to improve the aircraft’s laser for the next generation directed energy tactical weapon systems.