At the recent DEPS Systems Symposium, Leonardo’s John Goings presented key advancements in directed energy pump sources. His presentation, titled “The Road to Power Scaling and Industrialization of Directed Energy Pump Sources,” reviewed the role of semiconductor laser diodes, the pumping source, in directed energy laser systems.
Leonardo Electronics (LEI) has a long history of deploying lasers on US military laser platforms including:
- Fixed wing
- Unmanned aerial vehicles
This legacy of manufacturing excellence in support of military programs has provided LEI opportunities to lead the effort for technological advancements and industrialization for directed energy lasers. Lasertel, Leonardo’s Laser Solutions division, has focused efforts on high energy development programs such as directed energy.
The application space for directed energy lasers is broad and the platforms, vast. Ground-based counter UAS missions, such as the GBAD program, require laser powers in the range of 5-10 kilowatts. These kinds of lasers have been field demonstrated and represent a power scale at the lower end of the power spectrum for DE lasers. However, there is a demand for high power laser systems. To accomplish the variety of missions and deploy across different platforms, three primary laser technologies are being developed.
- Fiber lasers involve a gain medium of actively doped fiber optic cables and are already heavily used for industrial applications. The power scaling into the 10’s of kilowatts and the military ruggedness of these lasers is still in development.
- Solid-state lasers use slabs or disks of crystals for gain mediums and have the potential to offer higher powers into the 100’s of kilowatts.
- Alkali lasers use alkali-vapor gain mediums and offer the potential to power scale to the multi-Megawatts with attractive size and weight metrics for airborne and space-based platforms.
All three of these lasers are currently in various stages of development. While fiber and solid-state lasers have recently been deployed to test environments, further laser development is needed before any of these technologies meet the size, weight, power, and price points (SWaP-C) needed by the Department of Defense. What can be done to significantly change the capability, deployability, and cost of DE lasers?
Commonality can be found within all three advanced laser solutions. They are all pumped with semiconductor laser diodes, the most fundamental component in the system. They are, quite frankly, the “laser inside the laser.” The pump diode, in combination with the supporting power and cooling apparatus the diode requires, is the largest contributor to the size, weight, and cost of a directed energy laser. Making technological advancements in laser diodes is the key to achieving the ideal and deployable DE laser system.
For the past several years, Leonardo has been engineering semiconductor laser diode product solutions that will drastically change the landscape for what is possible with a directed energy laser. LEI diode advancements will offer new DE laser capabilities including:
- Increase in optical output power. More diode power means more total power out of the laser and less time on target and the ability to engage more targets.
- Reduced size and weight. The laser diode and the power and cooling support systems for that diode are the largest contributors to the overall size and weight of a directed energy laser. The latest advancements in semiconductor laser diode technology have proven a 700% reduction in the SWaP over single emitter diodes that were originally engineered for industrial material processing systems.
- Extensive testing has proven that this new breed of laser diode is capable of surviving a variety of harsh operating environments with a high degree of operational reliability.
- Price – new diode technologies are in the process of transitioning from the development phase to high-volume production. This will enable new and disruptive price points.
With 100,000’s of high powered laser diode devices currently deployed in advanced targeting, illumination, and designation applications, Leonardo has been and will continue to be a world leader in this space.
In 2020, Leonardo Electronics made a significant stride in directed energy technology with the development of the F8 – a pump source for fiber lasers which is much smaller and lighter weight than anything else on the market. Learn more about fiber coupled lasers for these applications. Additionally, new pulsed laser diodes have been developed offering a peak output power over 1,000W per 1cm diode bar. These products have moved to high volume production in 2020.
Interested in more directed energy resources?