Mini unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) provide real-time target tracking, location and strike damage assessment for artillery or rocket attacks, and can act as precision-guided weapons against high-value targets. Not only are they hard to hit with missiles or gunfire, but using missiles against a mini-UAV is expensive.
The advantage of mirrors, MBDA argues, is they absorb less energy than lenses, so the optical system can be driven to high power levels without fundamental change. Although tests in 2012 and 2013 used four 10-kw laser modules, the current system easily could go to 80 kw with standard modules. “We are also working with industry on alternate source technologies,” says one engineer, adding that with the right coating technology, “100-150 kw is not a problem.”
Solutions to engineering challenges —packaging the system and providing power and cooling—also are underway. MBDA is considering flywheels as alternatives to batteries: The key in either case is to provide instant full power.
Executives note that the laser offers a graduated response against a loitering UAV: damaging the sensor, dazzling (which, because of the potential to blind a pilot, is not a legal option against a manned aircraft) or destruction. Sensor, dazzling can be effective at very long range. The optics also can be used for long-range identification, complementing the weapon’s ability to deliver a discriminating response.