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We present the design of a 980 nm short-cavity, high-brightness, laterally graded-index (GRIN) laser diode with distributed phase correction. The proposed laser consists of a feed waveguide section coupled to a GRIN waveguide region with a discretized hyperbolic-secant index profile. Detailed wide-angle two-dimensional finite-difference beam propagation method simulations show that this lateral GRIN laser will exhibit significant performance improvements over comparable tapered lasers. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.