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Northrop Grumman's 100 kilowatt laser fired for six hours (update: ten minutes straight)

Sean Hollister

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100 kilowatts of piercing light isn't something to sneeze at, even fired for just a few seconds, but Northrup Grumman's long-awaited weapons-grade laser recently ran for a full six hours. That milestone is the feather in the company's cap as it prepares to ship the hulking machine to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where it will presumably begin doing what it does best -- turning things into crispier, more exploded versions of themselves in no time flat. PR after the break.

Update: Though we originally read this to mean that the potent ray fired for six hours straight, Northrup Grumman has since informed us that's not quite the case. "The correct info is that the 100kw solid-state laser has operated for a total of 60 minutes over a period of months as we continued refining it and preparing it for relocation to White Sands Missile Range," said a company rep, who promised to explain the nuances of military-grade lasing on Monday. We'll let you know what we hear.

Update 2: Okay, we recently finished speaking to Northrup Grumman, and here's the final word: the longest period the laser ever ran without stopping was ten minutes straight. Six hours is the total amount of time the laser has operated at 100 kilowatts, period, since the first time the firm turned it on in March of last year, and "60 minutes" is the made-up amount of time that inadvertently skipped into Northrup Grumman's email to us when it was originally trying to correct our mistake.

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Northrop Grumman-Built Joint High Power Solid State Laser Keeps Lasing ... and Lasing ... and Lasing ...

REDONDO BEACH, Calif., Dec. 8, 2010 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The beat goes on for the world's most powerful and reliable solid-state military laser.

Since becoming the first to reach the 100-kilowatt power level threshold for a solid-state laser in 2009, Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has continued to push the performance parameters of the Joint High Power Solid State Laser (JHPSSL). Company engineers and technicians have logged more than six hours of operating time -- all at power levels greater than 100kW -- with the JHPSSL system as they prepare to integrate it with a pointing and tracking system for field testing.

"We don't know of another 100kW solid-state laser anywhere that has operated continuously for more than a few seconds," said Steve Hixson, vice president of Advanced Concepts - Space and Directed Energy Systems for Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector. The six hours of run time for JHPSSL doesn't include low-power operations used for routine maintenance, he added.

"That kind of performance is unparalleled in the world of high-energy lasers," Hixson continued. "The very reliable JHPSSL system just keeps lasing ... and lasing ... and lasing."

A major military sponsor for JHPSSL likewise noted the laser's reliability and dependability.

"Northrop Grumman has created the gold standard for high-power, solid-state lasers with its JHPSSL system," said Mark Neice, director, Office of the Secretary of Defense, High Energy Laser Joint Technology Office. "Not only did the company demonstrate the full set of performance qualities required for a solid-state laser weapon, but its achievements during the last 18 months remained unmatched in the community."

Northrop Grumman is putting JHPSSL through its lasing paces to prepare for its relocation from the company's laser factory in Redondo Beach, Calif., to a specialized, high-energy laser test range at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility (HELSTF) for field tests.

Once there, JHPSSL will be integrated with existing beam control and command and control systems to form the core of the U.S. Army's Solid State Laser Testbed Experiment.

"We are operating JHPSSL to prepare for operations associated with the test site environment, timelines and procedures," said Dan Wildt, vice president of Directed Energy Systems for Northrop Grumman. "We also are collecting new information to support integration with a pointer-tracker system and a future integration experiment involving a mobile, ground-based laser weapon."

"As the challenges to our deployed forces continue to change, JHPSSL can provide a proven, affordable transition to fielding a military laser weapon capability in the near-term. We've shown time and again that this solid-state laser technology is capable, mature and ready to begin defending our forces," Wildt emphasized.

Martin Wacks, JHPSSL program manager, said JHPSSL's ongoing reliability and robustness is a testament to the team that put together the revolutionary capability. "This achievement in solid-state laser technology has received wide recognition because those inside and outside the industry realize its potential for near-term military uses."

The JHPSSL program is funded by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, Washington, D.C.; Office of the Secretary of Defense - High Energy Laser Joint Technology Office, Albuquerque, N.M.; Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; and the Office of Naval Research, Arlington, Va. Responsibility for program execution is assigned to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command in Huntsville, Ala.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a leading global security company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems, shipbuilding and technical services to government and commercial customers worldwide. Please visit for more information.

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