Navy Uses Lasers to Sustain F-35 Stealth Attack

Kris Osborn

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By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington, D.C.) Fighter Jet laser weapons are on the fast track, expected to bring new air attack options to “burn holes” through enemy targets at the speed of light. Not only are laser weapons fast, precise and low weight and drag, but they will bring a more stealthy, quiet attack advantage against air and ground targets, among other things. This is well known and ground testing of several programs are already underway with the Air Force Research Lab, the Office of Naval Research and numerous service entities involved in ground testing and ultimately flying the weapons.

Meanwhile, the Navy is concurrently developing a laser-application for its Marine Corps F-35B intended to effectively maintain the stealth fighter for future decades of war. Recognizing that the aircraft is, one might say, in its operational infancy and expected to fight until at least 2070 - the Marine Corps F-35 variant was the first of the three to enter service. Therefore, many of the existing F-35Bs have certainly been flying long enough to benefit from sustainment efforts. The Corps vertical take off and landing F-35 variant is now operating on several Navy amphibious assault ships, including the new America class amphibs.

The laser application, called “laser shock peening,” strengthens and preserves the aircraft’ s smooth stealthy exterior and composite metal materials.

A Navy report describes laser shock peening as a unique process producing a uniform result across the surface treated:

…..In laser shock peening, the surface of the media is first coated with an ablative layer and covered with a water tamping layer. A high-energy laser beam is fired at the metal, which creates an area of plasma on the metal’s surface. The impact creates a shock wave, which travels through the metal, and compressive residual stresses remain. This compression helps improve the metal’s damage tolerance, fatigue life and strength…… as written in a Navy news report published on Navy.mil

With technology verification and industry preparations already underway, laser shock peening will formally begin next year at a new F-35 depot facility now being finalized. The 16,000-square-foot facility comprises two bays, where the actual laser shock peening process will take place, and a connected area that will house the laser generator, according to the Navy report.

Laser peening will replace the legacy approach, called “shot peening,” which sprays solid material such as glass beads or metals in kind of a sandblast fashion, Crisp explained.

“(shot peening)You just randomly throw it at the surface, and it creates all these surface dimples. What you get is a very inconsistent surface profile, because it’s not controlled,” Matthew Crisp, the F-35 Joint Program Office site lead at FRCE. (Fleet Readiness Center East).

The new process, by contrast, will strengthen the design without adding metal or weight. This is of great significance, because among other things, the F-35 is built with a special blend of composite materials to minimize weight and drag while ensuring the curved, radar-absorbent stealth exterior is maintained. Such as process is naturally of greatest importance when it comes to flying with weapons lodged in an internal weapons bay so as not to expose contours and shapes potentially vulnerable to enemy radar detection. The process, Crisp said, has been used on the F-22 Raptor and various aircraft components.

Preserving a smooth exterior, without any kind of indentation is of critical importance to the F-35s stealth properties. Not only is the coating itself engineered to absorb enemy radar signals, but its smoothness is also critical. Should there be shapes or indents, even very small ones, they could compromise the fighters smooth exterior and increase the radar signature of the aircraft. Electromagnetic pings are able to send a clearer return signal when they can bounce off edges, shapes or other configurations able to render an image of an object. The F-35 is, according to Lockheed Martin engineers, built with specific bolts, seams, curved edges and smooth, curved protruding structures by design from its inception. Continued functionality, it goes without saying, relies upon the sustainment of the effects of these engineering techniques.

The Navy report also details some of the technical elements of the advantages laser treatment provides. Lasers can of course, bring heat, precision and an ability to blanket an area without needing to use small projectiles. Crisp explained the impact of laser peening this way:

It “creates a laser beam that’s actually square, and the intensity is consistent across the entire laser beam – it’s the exact same at the very edge of the beam as it is in the middle,” he said. “They come up with a grid pattern and stack the squares up right beside each other, so the entire surface of the part is completely uniform. You don’t have the weak spots in between these areas that would then induce cracking later.”

The workload of the laser treatment includes both F-35B and C models, and also encompasses F-35 aircraft owned by partner nations. FRCE will focus solely on the B variant, while Ogden Air Force Base in Utah will work on the F-35C models and take any F-35B overflow, the Navy report said.

-- Kris Osborn is a Non-Resident Fellow at The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies --

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Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics& Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

--- Kris Osborn, Managing Editor of WARRIORMAVEN (CLICK HERE) can be reached at krisosborn.ko@gmail.com--

Comments (6)
No. 1-5
Joe R.
Joe R.

SHOT "Shot" peening. Shot peening with a laser. Ok, if it werks.

CLS42
CLS42

But the USAF morons keep telling that softwere can do the job just as well as hardwere. Pentagon is desperate in justifying that they a bought a lemon that years behind newer 4Gen+ aircraft.

JoeWarriorModerator
JoeWarriorModerator

Warrior would be interested to know your thoughts on how and why newer 4th Gen are better? Nice to hear from you - regards - Joe Warrior Maven Moderator

1 Reply

CLS42
CLS42

Not as slow or unmaneuverable. Easier to upgrade, larger payload, longer IRST range. Everything a wanderwaffle-35 has will be more advanced on 4th Gen+ aircraft. Much of the hardware is already out of date compared to off the shelf products. Which are easier to integrate into pods.

Non-flying wing stealth aircraft are also becoming irrelevant. Electronic Warfare will have the advantage during the next few decades. One could say that the Growler would cover that problem, but the Wanderwaffle-C is too slow to keep up with a Super Hornet.

countryGirl24
countryGirl24

What would happen if a number of lasers were o be aimed at the same target? no need to have more powerful lasers.

JenWarriorModerator
JenWarriorModerator

Hello CountryGirl - that is a great point. In fact the Pentagon is now working on laser scaling to engineer more powerful lasers. A big element of this is, as you say, combining several beams into a single stream. This could have longer range, more destructive power and potentially travel through obscurants such as weather. Also, it will help mitigate beam attenuation - which is a concern with laser weapons due to atmospheric conditions. Finally, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency is now working on exactly what you describe and thinking lasers may one day help missile defense efforts - Jen Warrior Maven moderator


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