Gamma is the first product in Northrop Grumman's next-generation FIRESTRIKE family of high-energy, solid-state lasers that are lighter, smaller and more rugged for military operations than previous laser systems.
The company announced Gamma in 2012 after completing an extensive series of initial tests. Conducted in the company's Redondo Beach laboratory, the tests demonstrated that the laser could burn through the skin and critical components of a target drone used to simulate anti-ship cruise missile threats to U.S. Navy ships.
The laser operated at 13.3 kilowatts for a number of shots over a total of 1.5 hours with stable performance and a beam quality that exceeded design goals, completing the initial phase of trials.
Gamma uses a "slab" architecture similar to previous Northrop Grumman high-power, solid-state lasers, such as the Joint High Power Solid State Laser and the Maritime Laser Demonstrator. The term "slab laser" refers to a class of high-power, solid-state lasers with a gain medium, or source of atoms that emit light, in the form of a slab about the size of a microscope slide.
Developed with internal funding, Gamma's real achievement is in its packaging and ruggedness. The Gamma demonstrator is built in a form factor that implements the size and weight reduction goals of the FIRESTRIKE™ design, which cuts the weight of the finished laser chain to 400 pounds and shrinks the volume to 23 inches by 40 inches by 12 inches, or about the size of two countertop microwave ovens.
The Gamma demonstrator is a single "chain" or building block that is designed to be combined with other chains to create laser systems of greater power, as was demonstrated in Northrop Grumman's 105 kilowatt Joint High Power Solid State Laser.
The laser has also been ruggedized to demonstrate readiness to begin transition to operational use. Lessons from the company's 50,000-plus lower power laser devices in operation with the Defense Department were applied to Gamma to make it survivable in real-world operational environments and keep operating reliably.
Gamma also was designed for manufacturability and reduced cost. The laser leverages lessons learned from previous laser builds, combining multiple functions into simplified packages, enabling a significant reduction in the number of internal optical components, while reducing sensitivity to battlefield environmental conditions. Key portions of the Gamma laser were subjected to vibration, shock and thermal testing to validate that these improvements have achieved design goals.
The Gamma demonstrator is a single "chain" or building block that can be coherently combined into laser systems of greater power. The laser also is designed as a line replaceable unit, optimized for spares and field replacement.