Wing pumping a Tm.sup.3+ doped, end pumped solid state laser generates 2 .mu.m laser radiation at high average powers with high efficiency. Using laser diode arrays to end-pump the laser rod or slab in the wing of the Tm.sup.3+ absorption band near 785 nm results in 2-for-1 quantum efficiency in Tm.sup.3+ because high Tm.sup.3+ concentrations can be used. Wing pumping allows the thermal power generated in the rod or slab to be distributed over a large enough volume to make thermal management practical in the laser gain medium even at high average power operation. The approach is applicable to CW, Q-switched, and rep-pulsed free-laser operation.
The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. W-7405-ENG-48 between the United States Department of Energy and the University of California for the operation of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.