US Navy’s F-35 Uses Lasers for Stealth Attack.
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. Also, many
of the existing F-35Bs have certainly been flying long enough to benefit from sustainment
efforts. Meanwhile, 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.
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, Crisp
added in the Navy report. 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 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.
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.
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