Directed Energy Weapons: Ultra-Short Pulse Laser and Atmospheric Characterization

Directed energy weapons (DEWs) are defined as electromagnetic systems capable of converting chemical or electrical energy to radiated energy and focusing it on a target, resulting in physical damage that degrades, neutralizes, defeats, or destroys an adversarial capability. Navy DEWs include systems that use High Energy Lasers (HEL) that emit photons, and High Power Microwaves (HPM) that release radiofrequency waves. The U.S. Navy uses DEWs for power projection and integrated defense missions. The ability to focus the radiated energy reliably and repeatedly at range, with precision and controllable effects, while producing measured physical damage, is the measure of DEW system effectiveness. Conversely, capabilities to increase the resilience or survivability of platforms or Sailors from DEW threats are part of the Counter Directed Energy Weapons (CDEW) program.

The Office of Naval Research has three weapons-oriented research concentration areas: High Power Microwaves (HPM); Ultra-Short Pulse Laser (USPL) and Atmospheric Characterization; and Counter-Directed Energy Weapons and High Energy Lasers (CDEW & HEL).

Research Concentration Area: Ultra-Short Pulse Laser (USPL) and Atmospheric Characterization

Ultra-Short Pulse Laser (USPL) and Atmospheric Characterization initiatives explore the scientific limitations of DEW. Of particular research interest are efforts that offer breakthroughs in precision dynamic engagements against multiple maneuvering targets with selectable effects (hard kill, sensing, non-lethal), and those offering deep magazines, low cost per shot and “lowest” to zero collateral damage. This challenge includes research into fundamental understanding of laser sources, adaptive optics compensation techniques, long range atmospheric propagation physics, and the characterization of laser-matter interactions. This program will develop scientific understanding, components and subsystems to enable a USPL-based DEW best suited for naval applications.

Research Challenges and Opportunities

  • Atmospheric & Adaptive Optics: Controlling atmospheric interactions (like filamentation) while maximizing intensities requires the characterization and control to minimize the losses of laser intensity at distance. Accomplishing this will require adaptive optics with advanced control systems capable of handling non-linear laser propagation against fast moving targets in a maritime, littoral or high turbulence environment. Also of interest are systems capable of compensation through the high turbulence conditions of low maritime altitudes. Interest also includes beacon vs non-beacon solutions for near real-time adjustment of adaptive optics in real-time atmospheric conditions, and the break-up of laser beams due to atmospheric lensing. This includes high repetition rate of high power USPLs against their propagation effects in the atmosphere in order to validate propagation models with controlled experiments at over one kilometer (>1 km).
  • Materials Interaction & Response: Understand the theory of laser pulse material interaction and the effects due to concentrated strong electric fields through experimentation and observations to understand, validate and document USPL physics. Examine whether or not greater pulse energy at longer duration causes more effect than less pulse energy at shorter pulse duration, including femtosecond pulses.
  • Laser Source Development: Research laser sources with high repetition rates to address weapon capabilities and capacity within platform size, weight, energy and power constraints. Additional interest includes USPL ruggedization, reductions in size, weight and power or cooling (SWAP-C), USPL pulse compression and expansion, and novel compact long wavelength infrared (LWIR) USPL sources.

Type of Funding Available

  • Basic Research
  • Applied Research

Program Contact Information

Name: Quentin Saulter

Title: Program Officer

Department: Code 351

Email for Questions:

Program Funding

Submit white papers, QUAD charts and full proposals for contracts to this email address: ONR Code 35 Research Submissions

Follow instructions within BAA for submission of grant proposals to website.

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