Lockheed Martin F-16
Pictured: A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flies a mission in the skies near Iraq on March 22, 2003 during Operation Iraqi freedom.Wikimedia Commons

Northrop Grumman Corporation has been chosen to develop a laser-based self-defence system to protect the fourth generation tactical fighter aircraft of the United States Air Force like Boeing F-15 Eagle and Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The American aerospace and defence technology firm is expected to develop the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) Turret Research in Aero-Effects (STRAFE) programme. This project envisages an advanced beam control system that will be ready for integration in a tactical pod for fighter aircraft. This will be a part of the laser weapons systems.

The laser pod will be fitted in F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon and is expected to help in surviving airspaces that are tightly contested.

U.S. Air Force's latest fighters, Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, may not carry the laser pod as it would undermine its stealth.

Defence website IHS Janes reported that work on the project is expected to be completed by 2021. The $39.3 million contract was awarded by Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), a scientific research organisation operated by the U.S. Air Force Materiel Command.

The current countermeasures divert incoming missiles away from the targeted aircraft, while the SHiELD pod will be an external attachment which will take down missiles.

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