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Lasers Shine for Directed Energy Systems

by Asif Anwar | 5月 14, 2013

Technology limitations currently limit laser power output, but work in the US and Europe is progressing to the point where laser-based weapons have demonstrated their viability as the underpinnings of directed energy systems. The Strategy Analytics Advanced Defense Systems (ADS) service report, “Lasers Building Momentum as Viable Directed Energy Systems; High Power RF Holds Promise in Non-Lethals,” details some examples of laser-based systems being developed for air defense systems, as alternative or in addition to conventional systems.

After years of trying to develop futuristic systems with unrealistic performance specifications, companies working on the current batch of laser-based directed energy systems are taking a much more pragmatic approach. A common theme of the work at Boeing, MBDA and Rheinmetall is the development of systems based on commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) fiber lasers typically used in industrial applications such as welding. Using COTS-based fiber lasers in concert with coupling techniques is allowing practical power levels to be achieved enabling the use of laser-based directed energy systems as the basis for air defense systems supporting ranges up to around 3km. This makes the systems suitable for use as Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar (C-RAM), counter-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) systems as well as targeting new threat scenarios.

Issues still remain in fielding laser-based directed energy weapons. Unlike conventional weapons, a laser beam that misses its target has the potential to impact assets in air and space via laser dazzling effects so establishing rules of engagement will be important when these systems come into operational use.

The Strategy Analytics Advanced Defense System report Lasers Building Momentum as Viable Directed Energy Systems; High Power RF Holds Promise in Non-Lethals also looks at the status of high power RF technology based systems as the basis for non-lethal weapons (NLWs). The primary goal of is NLWs to incapacitate with effects that are relatively reversible and minimize the risk of damage and injury. As well as being applied to human adversaries, NLWs can also be used to stop and disable vessels and vehicles. The US DoD Non-Lethal Weapons Program is one example of activity in this area. The Joint Non-Lethals Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) coordinates these efforts and activities on the RF front including the RF Vehicle Stopper (RFVS) as well as the fielding of HPM payloads on UAV platforms.

The most high profile example is perhaps Active Denial Technologies that use RF millimeter waves to produce an intolerable heating sensation compelling targeted individuals to instinctively move out of the beam. The systems have been fielded in two Active Denial System (ADS) configurations with initial usage designed for the provision of stand-off capabilities in a crowd control scenario, targeting up to 4 individuals at a time. However the initial usage case appears to have been overstated and the system may find more applicability in static environments, using the system in conjunction with EO/IR and radar sensors.

For more details, clients of the ADS service can read the full report here

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