December 2, 2023

Australia has joined the race to deploy a practical high-energy laser weapon as it awarded A$12.9 million ($8.74 million) to QinetiQ Australia to develop a prototype with a twist – with the goal of creating a laser that could conduct main battles tank.

High-energy lasers are one of the most important emerging technologies, with military planners seeing them as a potential game-changer on par with the invention of gunpowder. The idea of ​​a weapon that can engage multiple targets at the speed of light for as little as $1 per shot is tantalizing, and is already seen as a way to counter drones, missiles, hypersonic weapons and other threats.

The Australian Department of Defense has taken it to another level with the QinetiQ contract to develop a prototype laser weapon with South Australia’s Defense Technology Group (DSTG). The US, UK, Russia and China are already developing similar weapons, mainly to counter flying threats, but Australia’s ambitions are somewhat greater.

The new laser weapon aims to make ground forces more resilient by taking advantage of the fact that lasers are largely self-contained and their ammunition is electric, which greatly reduces the need for ammunition stocks and supply lines.However, what is different about Australia’s laser program is that the ministry made it clear in a statement that 2020 Force Structure Planning It should be able to take on armored vehicles, including main battle tanks.

Fighting an armored behemoth weighing more than 70 tons is likely to be wet at this stage. The world’s most powerful laser weapon is a Lockheed Martin system that produces a 300-kilowatt beam. This is enough to eliminate a wide range of threats. However, drones, missiles, mortar shells and aircraft are not armored, making them vulnerable to the lethal penetration of high-energy lasers.

Main battle tanks, on the other hand, are wrapped in a thick shell of very complex armor plates. For example, NATO tanks use a variant of the Chobham armor. Its exact nature is highly classified, but it is essentially a combination of steel alloys, composite materials and ceramics, and has recently been rumored to contain layers of depleted uranium.

The result is an armor that is extremely resistant to explosive, thermal, kinetic and penetrating rounds. It is also very thick. The upshot is that while lasers could theoretically penetrate this protection, under battlefield conditions it was a slow and difficult process at best.

The basic problem is that an anti-tank laser has to deliver a lot of energy at a single point to armor that can absorb and dissipate a lot of heat, so the laser has to be able to work very fast. That means developing a solid-state laser that is far more powerful than anything to date.

It doesn’t end there. More powerful lasers mean upgrades to the entire weapon system, including power supplies, doped fiber coils that generate the laser light, focusing lenses, targeting systems, beam compensators, and more.

No wonder Australia funds not just one laser, but an entire manufacturing facility.

“DSTG is working with industry to build advanced and competitive Australian sovereign capabilities in key technology areas for our Defense Force,” said Chief Defense Scientist Professor Tanya Monro AC. “High energy laser manufacturing capabilities are how we work with industry to support emerging and an example of a disruptive technology.”

source: Australian Defense Force