AUSTRALIA – NEWS
QinetiQ Australia has received A$12.9 million (€8 million) to develop a prototype battlefield laser that can destroy tanks, reports New Atlas. High-energy lasers are one of the leading emerging technologies which, according to experts, could change the rules of modern warfare on a par with the invention of gunpowder.
The idea of a weapon that strikes multiple targets at the speed of light at a cost of one dollar a shot is very appealing and has long been considered as a way to counter drones, missiles, hypersonic weapons and other threats.
The goal of the new laser weapon is to make ground forces more resilient by taking advantage of the fact that the laser is largely autonomous and runs on electricity, greatly reducing the need for ammunition stocks and supply lines.
Similar weapons are being developed in the US, UK, Russia and China, but Australia’s ambitions are somewhat broader. The Australian Force Structure Plan 2020 explicitly states that the laser program must be capable of countering any armored vehicle up to and including main battle tanks.
It's not that simple
However, defeating an armoured behemoth weighing more than 70 tonnes is likely to remain wishful thinking at this stage. Today, the most powerful laser weapon in the world is the Lockheed Martin system, which generates a beam of 300 kW. However, this is only enough to destroy drones, missiles, mortar shells and other unarmoured objects.
Tanks, on the other hand, are covered by a thick shell of extremely sophisticated armour. NATO tanks, for example, use variants of Chobham armor. The exact nature of this armor is highly classified, but it is essentially a combination of steel alloy, composites and ceramics, and the newest variants are rumored to use layers of depleted uranium.
The result is armour that is highly resistant to blast, thermal, kinetic and fragmentation munitions. While a laser could, in theory, burn through such protection, it would be very slow and cumbersome to do so under battlefield conditions.
An anti-tank laser would have to transfer a huge amount of energy to a single point in the armor which can absorb and dissipate a lot of heat. That means developing a solid state laser that is much more powerful than any currently available.
And that’s not all. A more powerful laser means upgrading the entire weapon system, including the power supply, the doped fibre optic coils that generate the laser, the focusing lenses, the guidance system, beam compensators, etc.
Not surprisingly, Australia is funding not just a laser, but an entire production facility as part of this project.