Categories of Laser
Lasers can be classified into several forms in terms of wavelength, operation and lethality. Lasers used in directed energy weapon preferably have shorter wavelength and highest beam quality. The most commonly used laser types are discussed here:
E. Gerry and A. Kantrowitz invented the gas lasers back in 1966. This type of lasers use a gas mixture to generate laser beam. A gas laser is typically having a combustion chamber and supersonic nozzle expansion mechanism. The combustion produces relatively high pressured gas mixture which initiate the population inversion of laser. CO2 gas lasers have industrial implementation including welding & cutting operations. Glass medium can absorb the wavelength produced by a CO2 gas laser. This phenomenon is used in laser weapons for non-lethal operations like damaging windshields of enemy vehicles.
A chemical reaction works as the source of energy in a chemical laser system. This type of lasers are capable of generating very high output power continually. A stream of gas is produced by the chemical reaction. The molecules of gas stream are excited up to a certain level. Laser particles are then produced by this excited molecules with the help of injected gas. Chemical lasers are used in cutting operations in industries and can also be used to make lethal laser based energy weapons.
Solid-state laser gain medium is used to produce the electromagnetic energy in Solid-State Lasers (SSLs). This lasers are electronically operated which makes them lighter in weight and suitable for compact, robust usage. Having shorter wavelength, SSL generates comparatively lower output power. Researchers are working to reduce the amount of waste heat. This will significantly improve the output power in solid-state laser devices. SSLs also have the advantage of deep magazine and lower operating cost. A solid-state laser having 100 kW output power can operate effectively against incoming mortar shell and unmanned air vehicle attack.
The fiber laser technology is an advanced branch of solid-state lasers. The gain medium of this laser is composed of optical fibers doped with proper materials. The optical fiber contains laser diodes which are coupled with fibers. It has small aperture that helps to generate very high intensity output laser beams. The magnitude of the fiber laser can possibly reach twice higher than the ordinary SSLs. Fiber lasers are comparatively stronger and more reliable than other laser systems. The shorter wavelength of this type of lasers offers capability of operating in longer range. The only issue with the present fiber technology is the complexity of the entire system which is presumably be solved within a few years of technological advancement.
Components of Laser Based Weapons
The laser based directed weapon has two main parts. An overview about the two main components are given below:
The laser source works as the generating station for the energy weapon. This is an integral part of high powered laser weapons. It produce the required electromagnetic beam for a certain period of time to generate the laser. This system provides maximum power density within the laser at a target location. Several technologies have been used to power up the laser based weapons. CO2 and chemical based laser sources were used during early period of this weapon development. Recent advancement in solid state technology has made it one of the most viable source for laser based directed weapon system. In terms of lethal operations, Chemical Oxy Iodide Laser (COIL) system is mostly used because of its capabilities of generating power in very high scale with shorter operational wavelength.
Figure 4: Components of Laser Weapons. credit: author
Beam Control Mechanism
Beam control equipment are used to accurately point the target and to guide the electromagnetic energy in a specific manner. Beam control mechanism performs following operations:
Target tracking operation is performed using camera equipment mounted with telescope mechanism. Target tracking system has crucial role against fast moving targets like missiles, aircrafts and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The beam is directed towards the specific target using telescope mechanism. The weapon’s lethal range is much dependent on the aperture size of the telescope. A cascaded arrangement of mirrors is used to direct the laser beam towards the telescope. This transportation system connects the laser source with the telescope.
Laser Weapon Operations
With the advancement of military technology, implementation of laser based directed energy weapons are becoming crucial part of modern warfare. Improved lethality and flexible operation capabilities enable the use of laser weapons in both defensive and striking operations.
Laser weapons can effectively be used in defensive operations. It has the potential to provide self-defense features for land, air and naval military units. Laser weapons are capable of damaging the incoming fire threats like rockets, mortar shells etc. Laser based weapons offers increased survival rate for supersonic aerial platforms. The defensive use of laser weapons can be described as follows:
Laser weapons offers both lethal and non-lethal striking operations. The use of laser weapons in offensive operations are mostly based on the accuracy and speed of laser propagation. This type of weapons can be used against enemy defensive system to disable the tracking and sensing operation of enemy defensive utilities. The offensive implementation of laser weapons can be described as follows:
An example of laser weapon demonstration can be observed from the video shown below. The video is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Laser weapon demonstration by US Navy available on Wikimedia Commons
Laser weapons have several advantages over the conventional military weapons. The most effective advantages of laser based weapons are discussed below:
Laser based weapon systems have some operational limitations also. The limitations of laser based weapons are given below:
Laser based directed energy weapons are constantly being used in current military operations across the globe. The mobility and precision based accuracy of laser weapons make it a viable option in both defense and attacking operation. Recent advancement on laser technology increased the potential to implement laser weapons in land, air and marine platforms. Ongoing researches are expected to improve the credibility of laser based weapons in upcoming years.
My sincere gratitude to @scienceangel for her help in mentoring this article.
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