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DARPA Seeks Next-Gen Scalable Laser Weapon Systems

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has issued a request for scalable, high-energy laser (HEL) technology proposals to build a new generation of laser weapon systems.

The proposed five-year, $60 million Modular Efficient Laser Technology (MELT) initiative categorically excludes research aimed at improving current technologies, requesting “revolutionary advances in devices.”

“Of particular interest are proposals for the development of a compact, scalable, actively coherent beam combined semiconductor-based (direct diode) HEL source technology with excellent beam quality,” the solicitation states.

Moreover, it “aims to exploit technologies such as novel semiconductor fabrication techniques, coherent beam combining, photonic integration, and three-dimensional (3D) integration and packaging.”

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According to DARPA, the current HEL systems are not scalable enough. They use “multiple beam-combined high-power fiber amplifiers” as their source, requiring “large complex optical subsystems to condition and project the laser beam.”

The agency says that using a “coherent beam combined tiled array” as the source of the system will remove the need for complex subsystems, making the system more scalable without compromising beam quality. The coherent beam array technique combines a group of multiple laser beams to create a correspondingly more powerful single beam.   

The coherent beam array has limitless scalability and allows manual “beam steering for beam jitter correction” and “complex phase corrections to compensate for atmospheric disturbances,” according to DARPA.

A range of laser weapons is scheduled for deployment by separate US military branches soon, such as the US Navy High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance and the US Air Force Airborne High Energy Laser.

Meanwhile, the US Army’s Stryker vehicle-mounted laser-based system was tested in a “combat shoot-off” last year and is expected to be inducted next year.

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