While current defensive systems typically divert incoming missiles away from the target aircraft, the SHiELD pod would instead use laser technology to destroy them. Source: US Air Force


Northrop Grumman has been awarded a USD39.3 million contract related to the development of a laser-based self-defence system for the US Air Force (USAF).

The contract, which was awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) on 23 August, is for the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) Turret Research in Aero-Effects (STRAFE) programme.

Northrop Grumman will develop and deliver an advanced beam control system for integration as part of a complete laser weapons system into a tactical pod for USAF fighter aircraft.

As noted by the Department of Defense (DoD), the STRAFE aspect of the award will increase the knowledge and understanding of aero-optic disturbances in a supersonic environment by collecting data during engagement scenarios.

Work is expected to be complete by 31 August 2021.

It is intended that the SHiELD pod would better enable the USAF’s fourth-generation fighter fleet, such as the Boeing F-15 Eagle and Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, to survive in contested airspace. The fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II would probably not carry the pod, as it would negate their stealth characteristics.

Current defence countermeasures divert incoming missiles away from the target aircraft, while the externally carried SHiELD pod would instead destroy the missile. Future pods will seek to increase this power output for greater effect/range.