Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) laser weapon system

By jamesdcreviston Add a Comment 11 Min Read
The ATHENA system shown here destroyed multiple drones in a real-world demonstration for the Air Force.
Lockheed Martin ATHENA
The ATHENA system shown here destroyed multiple drones in a real-world demonstration for the Air Force.

In the realm of modern warfare, where technology evolves at breakneck speed, traditional defense mechanisms are often rendered obsolete against emerging threats. Among these threats, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have become increasingly prevalent, posing significant challenges to military forces around the world. To counter this menace, Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) laser weapon system has emerged as a groundbreaking solution, showcasing unparalleled effectiveness and versatility.

Lasers are concentrated beams of light that transmit large amounts of electromagnetic radiation, expressed in kilowatts, against their target. Pointed at a target, the laser causes rapid heating on the surface. This can cause objects to melt and fuel tanks to ignite. A drone can fail structurally, falling out of the sky, or burst into flames.

The threat of drone swarms against air bases and the multi-million dollar radars and aircraft stationed there is real, as demonstrated through the use of drones in the Ukraine war. Even a small drone carrying a grenade-sized explosive warhead could easily disable an $80 million F-35 Joint Strike Fighter parked on the tarmac of an air base. Drone swarms could also do things like attack Patriot missile batteries and their fragile radars, destroying them and clearing the way for more powerful air attacks.

In addition, ​​ATHENA is also capable of shooting down incoming artillery shells and rockets. In anti-artillery mode, ATHENA operates autonomously, with no “man in the loop” to authorize the laser to fire. Artillery rounds simply move too fast for the system to seek permission from a human operator.

ATHENA was recently put to the test by the United States Air Force (USAF) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In a series of demonstrations, ATHENA exhibited its capability to engage and neutralize a diverse array of threats, including both fixed-wing and rotary drones. This milestone achievement underscores the system’s potential as a potent deterrent against hostile UAS activities.

In rigorous testing, ATHENA demonstrated its prowess by engaging and successfully destroying multiple drones, including both fixed-wing and rotary-lift variants. Utilizing a spectral beam combined fiber laser, ATHENA’s high-energy output delivers precise and lethal force against threats. The system’s adaptability to real-threat environments, ranges, and flight paths showcases its operational readiness and versatility.

Operated within a fully netted engagement environment, ATHENA seamlessly integrated with a government command and control (C2) system and radar sensor. Airmen, equipped with access to these sophisticated tools, leveraged ATHENA to track, acquire, and defeat the targeted drones using its high-energy laser technology. In tests, ATHENA torched several flying drones, including fixed-wing (glider-type) and rotor (quadcopter) drones. Such successful engagements highlight ATHENA’s adaptability and effectiveness in real-world scenarios, mirroring the challenges encountered by military personnel on the battlefield.

ATHENA can burn through a vehicle hood and destroy the engine.

The significance of ATHENA extends beyond its ability to thwart UAS threats. As Sarah Reeves, Vice President of Missile Defense Programs at Lockheed Martin, aptly stated, “We’ve watched in recent news this type of laser weapon solution is essential for deterring unmanned vehicle type threats.” Indeed, in an era marked by the proliferation of inexpensive, highly maneuverable drones, ATHENA represents a critical asset in safeguarding military installations, assets, and personnel against asymmetric threats. Moreover, ATHENA’s transportable nature empowers the Air Force to deploy it swiftly to defend bases and high-value assets as per operational requirements. Its cost-effectiveness and complementary nature to existing defense systems further enhance its appeal as a force multiplier on the modern battlefield.

“We’ve watched in recent news this type of laser weapon solution is essential for deterring unmanned vehicle type threats.”

Sarah Reeves, Vice President of Missile Defense Programs at Lockheed Martin

ATHENA’s capabilities extend beyond conventional drones. The system’s architecture, comprising three 10-kilowatt fiber lasers combined into a single 30-kilowatt beam, enables it to handle various threats per engagement. This flexibility ensures ATHENA’s efficacy against evolving threats, particularly drone swarms that pose significant challenges to military installations and assets. This modular approach not only enhances ATHENA’s operational flexibility but also facilitates future upgrades and enhancements to address evolving threats.

ATHENA stands as a pinnacle of this evolution, embodying the revolutionary capabilities inherent in laser weapons. With advantages such as speed, flexibility, precision, and low cost per engagement, laser weapon systems offer unparalleled benefits over traditional kinetic energy weapons. The ability to neutralize large numbers of threats swiftly and efficiently makes them indispensable assets in modern military operations. As military forces worldwide grapple with the evolving threat landscape, laser weapon systems like ATHENA will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in shaping the future of warfare. With ongoing advancements in directed energy technologies and continued investment in research and development, the potential applications of laser weaponry are boundless.

Laser weapons like ATHENA represent a paradigm shift in modern warfare, offering unparalleled advantages over traditional kinetic energy weapons. By harnessing the speed, precision, and low-cost per engagement of laser technology, these systems redefine the dynamics of military operations. Unlike conventional explosives, laser weapons operate by burning through the outer layers of targets, rendering them ineffective or disrupting critical systems. Whether deployed as standalone systems or integrated with kinetic energy capabilities, Directed Energy (DE) weapons serve as force multipliers, empowering warfighters to effectively combat an array of emerging threats.

Key characteristics of Directed Energy (DE) weapons include:

– Deep Magazine: Ample ammunition capacity for sustained engagements.

– Low Cost per Engagement: Cost-efficient operations compared to traditional kinetic weapons.

– Speed of Light Delivery: Instantaneous response, ensuring swift neutralization of threats.

Directed energy weapons offer several unique advantages:

– Robust Architecture: Designed for minimal lifecycle costs and maximum uptime.

– Flexible Power Output: Rapid adjustment between power levels for disruption, disablement, or destruction.

– Highly Parallel Design: Redundancy to mitigate single points of failure, ensuring reliability.

– Optimized Efficiency: Minimized size, weight, and power requirements, enhancing deployability.

– Enhanced Lethality: Swift engagement capabilities, minimizing threat response time.

ATHENA is not the only advanced laser weapon system, other systems include the following:

– ADAM (Area Defense Anti-Munitions): Autonomous system effectively engaging rocket threats and unmanned aircraft.

– ALADIN (Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative): Integrating a 30-kilowatt fiber laser for enhanced precision and efficiency.

– RELI (Robust Electric Laser Initiative): Developing modular laser systems for ground-based military vehicles.

– ABC Turret (Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control): Tactical aircraft-mounted turret with 360-degree firing capability and scalable power levels.

Laser weapon systems represent the culmination of decades of research, development, and innovation. With their revolutionary capabilities and unmatched advantages, these systems are poised to redefine modern warfare, ensuring the safety and security of military personnel and assets worldwide. ATHENA’s integration with military platforms and installations holds the promise of enhancing air base defense capabilities and safeguarding critical assets against asymmetric threats. Continued investment in directed energy technologies, coupled with operational testing and validation, will further solidify ATHENA’s position as a cornerstone of modern defense strategies.

ATHENA represents not only a triumph in technological innovation but also a testament to the unwavering resolve of defense contractors and military forces to stay ahead of the curve in an ever-changing security landscape. As laser weapon systems continue to evolve and mature, they will undoubtedly shape the future of warfare, offering a decisive advantage to those who harness their formidable capabilities.

What is Lockheed Martin’s ATHENA laser weapon?

The ATHENA laser weapon system has three 10-kilowatt fiber lasers that combine into a single 30-kilowatt beam.


Leave a comment

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Exit mobile version