In the late 1960's researchers realized that producing a population inversion in a moving medium could be used to generate high-energy laser beams. The first lasers to scale to the 10 kW size with good beam quality were supersonic flows of N2 - CO2, emitting radiation from the CO2 at 10.6 microns. In the 1970's gas dynamic CO2 lasers were scaled to hundreds of kilowatts and engineered into a KC-135 aircraft. This aircraft (The Airborne Laser Laboratory) was used to shoot down Sidewinder AIM-9B missiles in the early 1980’s. During this same time period (1970-1990) hydrogen fluoride and deuterium fluoride lasers were scaled to the MW scale in ground-based facilities. In 1978, the Iodine laser was invented at the Air Force Research Laboratory and scaled to the 100 kW level by the early 1990’s. Since the 60s, the DOD Chemical Laser development efforts have included CO2, CO, DF, HF, and Iodine. Currently, the DOD is developing DF, HF, and Iodine lasers, since CO2 and CO have wavelengths and diffraction limitations which make them less attractive for high energy weapons applications. The current military vision is to use chemical lasers to prove the principles and field ground and air mounted laser systems while attempting to develop weight efficient solid-state lasers at the high power levels for use in future Strategic and Tactical situations. This paper describes the evolution of Chemical Oxygen Iodine Lasers, their selection for use in the Airborne Laser (ABL), and the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL). COIL was selected for these early applications because of its power scalability, its short wavelength, its atmospheric transmittance, and its excellent beam quality. The advantages and challenges are described, as well as some of the activities to improve magazine depth and logistics supportability. COIL lasers are also potentially applicable to mobile ground based applications, and future space based applications, but challenges exist. In addition, COIL is being considered for civil commercial applications in the US and overseas.
Laser weapon systems would be significantly enhanced with the addition of high altitude or space-borne relay mirrors. Such mirrors, operating alone with a directed energy source, or many in a series fashion, can be shown to effectively move the laser source to the last, so-called fighting mirror. This “magically” reduces the range to target and offers to enhance the performance of directed energy systems like the Airborne Laser and even ground-based or ship-based lasers. Recent development of high altitude airships will be shown to provide stationary positions for such relay mirrors thereby enabling many new and important applications for laser weapons. The technical challenges to achieve this capability are discussed.