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DARPA looking for anti-laser defences for US aircraft

Rapid improvements in high-energy laser weapons has the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) concerned that US aircraft could be targeted and attacked by adversaries in the future.

In response, the Pentagon’s leading weapons research and development arm is looking for high-energy laser counter measures, the agency posted online in an industry request for information on 18 October. The outfit wants a counter measure that could be mounted on aircraft, as well as ground vehicles or ships, it says.

DARPA is looking for anti-laser defensive technology ideas that can detect an attack, geo-locate the attacker and disrupt the laser weapon’s kill chain within milliseconds of an attack starting. The agency says its ideal defensive system would do all three functions, though it is open to considering a system that does just one or two functions.

The US Department of Defense expects its adversaries to start fielding high-energy lasers in the next 20 years, according to the notice.

DARPA notes that laser weapons are being improved using technology from civilian industries.

“In recent years, high-power fiber and semiconductor laser technology has improved rapidly, with power density increasing by an order of magnitude or more. Much of this increase has been driven by demand for industrial cutting machines and high-bandwidth, long-range telecommunications,” says the agency. “These same laser materials and devices can also be used by directed-energy weapons for both destructive and deteriorating effects, such as temporary blinding or degrading electro-optical/infrared sensors.”

Because lasers are also becoming more powerful in the future the weapons might also be capable of damaging aircraft components, light vehicles, munitions or causing injury to soldiers, DARPA says.

DARPA is looking for counter measures that have been developed to a technology readiness level three. Such a state of technology is still relatively immature, with only analytical and laboratory studies completed, and proof-of-concept model constructed, according to a NASA definition.

“Initial concepts that rapidly lead to field demonstrations of a tactical platform at relevant scales are of particular interest,” the research and develop organization says.

DARPA says it is strongly interested in a “pre-fire” system, a defensive measure which finds and stops a laser weapon before the attack.

“Approaches that disrupt the [high-energy laser] kill chain, as well as approaches that harden platforms and munitions to allow a kinetic attack on [high-energy laser] systems are of interest,” it says.

The agency also wants ideas for multiple platforms, such as different aircraft, ground vehicles or ships, to be able to share information about potential or incoming attacks.

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