Fiber laser systems act as weapons in military application

Nowadays technological progress has reached a milestone when laser system weapons installed on vehicles have become a reality. Vehicle-mounted laser beam weapons are considered to be a low-cost device for improving combat capabilities, applied by both regular and irregular armies involved in almost every conflict in the world. 

Until recently, options for installing weapons on combat vehicles have been limited to machine guns and artillery systems of various types. However, the situation here begins to change with the emergence of fiber laser systems or directed laser beam energy systems that produce enough power to burn small aircraft and ammunition in the air. 

The placement of large power storage units on such systems has always been a serious problem, but recent developments in fiber laser technology have reduced the size of lasers to allow them to be installed even on a large jeep. 

In the 90s, there was a technological revolution in fiber optic communications, which accelerated the development of high-power solid-state laser systems, which found application in industrial processing a decade later – branding, cutting, welding, and melting.

These laser systems are extremely effective at short distances, but it was a matter of time for the industry to find a way to scale this fiber laser technology and develop futuristic weapons that could cut and melt targets at a distance of several hundred or even thousands of meters.

Interest in military applications of fiber lasers increased immediately after the demonstrations of the first quantum generators. The unique properties of laser beam radiation, directivity, monochromaticity, coherence, generation of ultrashort pulses, and high energy concentrations are regarded as very attractive for various weapons systems. 

Laser systems include devices employed to perform measurements and even functional sensors. For military applications, such fiber laser systems are applied for guidance or target designation, rangefinding (determining the distance to the target), control of combat vehicles (proximity sensors), detection, tracking, and visualization of targets (laser beam radars), countering enemy electronic-optical tools. 

Fiber laser weapons always cause a lot of controversies. Some people consider it a weapon of the future, while others categorically deny the likelihood of effective examples of such weapons appearing shortly. People thought about laser beam weapons even before they appeared.

Since the development of the first laser system, a huge number of ways to obtain laser beam radiation have been found. There are solid-state lasers, gas lasers, dye lasers, free-electron lasers, fiber lasers, semiconductor lasers, and other laser systems

Also, lasers differ in the method of excitation. For example, in gas laser systems of various designs, the active medium can be excited by optical radiation, electric current discharge, chemical reaction, nuclear pumping, or thermal pumping. The emergence of semiconductor lasers leads to DPSS (diode-pumped solid-state) laser systems.

Various designs allow obtaining different wavelengths of laser beam radiation at the output, from soft x-ray radiation to infrared radiation. Laser systems that emit hard x-rays and gamma-ray lasers are still in development. This allows selecting the fiber laser based on the problem being solved. 

As for military applications, this means, for example, the possibility of choosing a fiber laser system with wavelength radiation that is minimally absorbed by the planet’s atmosphere. Since the development of the prototype, the power has continuously increased, the mass and size characteristics and the efficiency of lasers have improved. 

This is very clearly seen in the example of laser modules. Of course, fiber laser modules are not suitable for creating combat lasers, but they are in turn used for pumping efficient solid-state and fiber laser systems

An important element of the system is the high-quality laser beam focusing system – the smaller the spot area is on the target, the higher the specific power is that allows damage to be caused. Progress in the development of complex optical systems and the emergence of new high-temperature optical materials allows producing highly efficient focusing systems. 

Another important component that makes it possible to create a laser beam weapon is the development of systems for aiming and holding the beam on the target. Gigawatt power is required to hit targets with an “instant” shot, in a fraction of a second, but the creation of such fiber laser systems and power sources for them on a mobile chassis is a matter of the distant future. 

Accordingly, it is necessary to hold the spot of laser beam radiation on the target for some time (from a few seconds to several tens of seconds) to destroy targets with lasers of hundreds of kilowatts – tens of megawatts. This requires high-precision and high-speed drives that can track the high-quality laser beam on the target, according to the guidance system.

The guidance system must compensate for the distortion introduced by the atmosphere, when shooting at long distances, for which the guidance system can use several laser systems for various purposes, providing accurate guidance of the main “combat” laser beam on the target. 

Because of the lack of power sources for optical pumping, gas-dynamic and chemical laser systems have received priority development in the field of weapons. Despite all the benefits provided by gas-dynamic and chemical lasers, they have significant disadvantages: the need for consumable components, launch inertia (according to some data, it is up to one minute), significant heat generation, large dimensions, and the output of spent components of the active medium. Such lasers can only be placed on large areas.

At the moment, the greatest prospects are for solid-state and fiber laser systems, which only need to provide them with sufficient power to operate. The US Navy is actively working on free-electron fiber laser technology. An important advantage of fiber lasers is their scalability, i.e. the ability to combine several fiber laser modules to get more power.

Modern laser systems adapt to any vehicle that you want to use at the moment and that’s why this technology is so impressive, it provides the flexibility of the architecture to fit different vehicles without much refinement. This allows developing a system to support both a combat team and a forward operating base.

The system applies commercial fiber lasers assembled into easily reproducible modules, which makes it very affordable. Using multiple fiber laser modules also reduces the likelihood of minor faults, as well as the cost and volume of maintenance and repair.

There are several characteristics of a directed energy tactical weapon that make it very attractive to modern armed forces, including the low cost of “ammunition” and their speed, accuracy, and ease of use.

First of all, this is a very accurate weapon with potentially very low indirect damage. The speed of laser beam light allows instantly irradiating the target, and, therefore, it is possible to hit highly maneuverable targets, i.e. keeping the laser beam on the target, which sometimes can not cope with kinetic ammunition.

Perhaps the most important benefit of such fiber laser systems is the low cost of one effective “shot”. For instance, at this point, you don’t want to spend expensive and powerful defensive kinetic weapons on cheap multiple threats. Laser beam weapons are regarded as an addition to kinetic systems. 

The laser system is used against a large number of cheap threats of low intensity, leaving your kinetic force for attacking complex, armored, long-range threats. Such fiber lasers can be employed to protect against flying drones. For example, an American company has introduced a laser system to protect objects from drones. 

A combat laser system shot down five aircraft-type drones during tests in 2017 in New Mexico. The fiber laser system is called ATHENA (Advanced Test High Energy Asset, high energy system for advanced testing). The operating principle is based on a 30-kilowatt fiber laser.

Another application of the laser system was demonstrated using a fiber laser system against missiles.  A message published on the company’s website informs that the engineers have managed to solve the issue related to the heating of the high-quality laser beam installation, as well as its compactness, thus, creating an ideal protection system. 

The engineers claim that this is the only company that has an integrated fiber laser weapon system at an acceptable level of power and accuracy, which they have achieved with the ADAM (Area Defense Anti-Munitions) and ATHENA (Advanced Test High Energy Asset) laser systems.

If you are looking for a compact highly-efficient laser system, the Optromix company is ready to manufacture it. Optromix is a manufacturer of laser systems, optical fiber sensors, and optical monitoring systems. We develop and manufacture a broad variety of fiber lasers, high powered fiber lasers, and other types. We offer simple laser products, as well as sophisticated fiber laser systems with unique characteristics, based on the client’s inquiry. 

We manufacture laser modules using our technologies based on the advanced research work and patents of the international R&D team. Laser processes are of high quality, high precision, easily-automated manufacturing solutions that provide repeatability and flexibility. If you have any questions or would like to buy a fiber laser system, please contact us at info@optromix.com

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