BAE Systems is working on a concept that could potentially defend aircraft against high-powered laser weapons or extend the reach of a radar well beyond current capabilities by heating up small areas of the atmosphere.
The Laser Developed Atmospheric Lens (LDAL) concept works by simulating naturally occurring phenomena and temporarily - and reversibly - changes the Earth's atmosphere into lens-like structures to magnify or change the path of electromagnetic waves, such as light and radio signals, according to BAE Systems.
While the capability would enable forces to gain control of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum, the ability to deploy a defensive weapon is decades away. However, BAE Systems scientists believe the idea is attainable and they hope to conduct demonstrations is the near future.
The company began looking at whether they could transform the properties of the atmosphere around an aircraft enough to divert, deflect, or re-focus EM energy.
"The way this works is we take a high pulse power laser device, which has a pretty low average power as it turns out so it is something that is potentially feasible to operate from a combat aircraft," Nick Colosimo, BAE Systems' futurist and technologist, told Jane's .
"[Since] the pulses are so short in duration ... there is very little energy in each pulse; but because the time period is very, very short the power is huge," Colosimo added.
As very high-power pulses pass through the atmosphere they self-focus, so they concentrate themselves downward. This is referred to as the Kerr Effect, he noted.
According to BAE Systems: "The Kerr Effect in this case is an effect in which the powerful electric field of the laser pulse from the LDAL concept causes the optical properties of the atmosphere to change. This results in focusing the laser pulse to a small concentrated region bringing about ionisation of the atmosphere [the creation of a plasma] or atmospheric heating."
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