Scientists have discovered a method to scale up the power of lasers by up to nine times without reducing the beam quality.
The breakthrough could have profound implications for the future of warfare through the development of long-distance laser weaponry capable of melting targets.
“High-power fibre lasers are vital in manufacturing and defence, and becoming more so with the proliferation of cheap, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) in modern battlefields,” said Dr Linh Nguyen from the University of South Australia, who was one of the lead researchers behind the finding.
“A swarm of cheap drones can quickly drain the missile resource, leaving military assets and vehicles with depleted firing power for more combat-critical missions.
“High-power fibre lasers, with their extremely low-cost-per-shot and speed of light action, are the only feasible defence solution in the long run.”
Until now, multimode optical fibre lasers have been far more powerful than single-mode optical fibre lasers, however their beams have suffered from scattering that significantly reduces their effectiveness over longer distances.
The new research, which was funded by the US Air Force, found a solution to limit the scattering and produce a high-quality, high-powered beam capable of causing major damage to a distant target.
The research was detailed in a study, titled ‘Mitigating stimulated Brillouin scattering in multimode fibres with focused output via wavefront shaping’, published in the scientific journal Nature Communications. The work will be presented at the conference Photonics West early next year.
Militaries around the world are increasingly using high-powered lasers to counter aerial threats, though current technologies are limited by the distance they can reach and the size of the target they can destroy.
Earlier this year, defence company Raytheon UK announced that high-energy laser weapons would be integrated onto Wolfhound military vehicles as part of a deal with the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The 15-kilowatt laser system offers a nearly infinite number of shots and precision accuracy, while also being resistant to extreme temperatures and weather conditions.
“With deep, rechargeable magazine and minimal logistics, this laser weapon is an affordable and viable option to protect military and critical infrastructure, and rapidly defeat threats,” Raytheon UK said in September.
“Its arrival reflects our continued commitment to help fulfil a key strategic objective of the UK’s Integrated Review, which is to understand how directed energy weapons can safely and effectively operate alongside other elements of the UK’s armed forces.”