TRW, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman win laser contracts

TRW Corp., Raytheon Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. each have been awarded a contract in laser research and development: TRW and Raytheon to develop a solid-state laser, and Northrop Grumman to conduct research into protecting personnel who operate or are exposed to lasers.

The TRW and Raytheon contracts, worth $21.3 million and $16.9 million over two years, respectively, were awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory. The companies are working to develop an electrically powered, solid-state laser that puts out 25 kilowatts of laser-beam power.

The awards are part of the Joint High-Power Solid-State Laser program, which is aiming to demonstrate the laser by the end of 2004. TRW could receive a one-year extension on the contract, worth an additional $7.2 million, a company spokesman said. Raytheon, too, is eligible for a one-year extension; the value of that extra year was not released.

Military planners see the program as a step on the path to solid-state laser weapons that could be mounted on aircraft, ships or ground vehicles, TRW officials said. While much more powerful, chemical-based lasers exist, logistically it would be easier for military personnel to use electrically powered lasers that could run off generators.

Northrop Grumman, headquartered in Los Angeles, was awarded a contract worth up to $45 million over five years to study the physiological effects on personnel who are exposed to laser radiation and how lasers affect visual performance.

The research areas covered include laser safety, vision science, laser eye protection and personnel susceptibility. The company will establish safe limits for exposure and develop and test eye protection. Northrop Grumman IT will also create models of visual performance in the presence of laser illumination and develop software tools to enable safe testing of very high energy laser weapon systems.

This type of research is critical to the safe testing and use of laser devises and weapons, Northrop Grumman officials said.

Northrop Grumman is on the brink of closing its acquisition of TRW, as early as this week, pending antitrust clearances from the Justice Department.

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