The utility of employing lasers to perform certain air-to-air communications functions is often questioned on both technological and physical grounds. An obvious question regarding air-to-air laser communications concerns the advantages of using lasers versus more common radio frequency (RF) techniques to satisfy communications requirements. Simply put, what are the advantages? Obviously, when the desire is to control the amount and direction of emitted radiation from a source, lasers are attractive by virtue of their narrow beamwidths. When omni-directional communications are desired and/or the control of emitted radiation is not required, then conventional RF techniques at lower frequencies are better suited to the task. Answers to the more intuitive questions addressing the state of technological maturation and the lack of an all-weather capability have eluded the user community, and stunted the developmental growth of this promising technology. The Avionics Laboratory of the Air Force Wright Aeronautical Laboratories has been actively involved in the development of air-to-air laser communications technologies since 1981. Through both in-house and contracted work, a unique perspective regarding the issues hindering air-to-air laser communications systems development has evolved. Before a significant system development program is undertaken, satisfactory answers to basic questions which deal with operational utility and performance limitations need to be formulated and disseminated to the users in a comprehensive fashion that will allow them to decide if this technology is appropriate to their mission. Also, the identification and pursuit by the R&D community of well balanced initiatives that reduce development risk of certain component areas will provide a greater impetus for future system level development efforts. This paper will present and discuss some of the development issues that need resolution before air-to-air laser communications can be successfully applied to airborne communications problems.
Robert J. Feldmann,
"Development Of Air-To-Air Laser Communications", Proc. SPIE 1059, Space Sensing, Communications, and Networking, (2 June 1989); doi: 10.1117/12.951700; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.951700