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Army groups collaborate on stronger laser protection

Photonics Spectra
Nov 2013
ADELPHI, Md. – More technologically advanced tools of warfare will give soldiers tools not only for offense, but also for defense, if the Army’s Laser Protection Team achieves its mission.

The team consists of the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL), the US Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), and the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), all of which will join forces to identify and develop materials that offer the most effective protection against lasers.

The ARL, which has been developing laser-damage-protection materials for mounted ground vehicles and individual dismounted soldiers for nearly 20 years, now must analyze academic findings to determine which materials provide the most effective protection against today’s lasers.

“Lasers of varying pulse width and wavelength are being developed every day,” said ARL team leader Andy Mott. “We protect against the known threats and unknown ones. We develop protection for electronic sensors of the future, as well as the sighting systems of today.”


Andy Mott of the US Army Research Laboratory Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate is a team leader with the Laser Protection Team, which is bringing a new level of protection from lasers. Photo courtesy of ARL.


Lasers can permanently incapacitate or blind cameras lacking proper protection, making completion of various missions much more difficult. The key is to find a material that gives the right amount of sight but also a safe amount of exposure.

“The lab’s niche – characterization of complex molecules with nonlinear properties, delivering the kind of materials that would allow natural light through, but block any laser light – is what ARL brings to the project,” Mott said. “Lasers could also inflict damage to soldiers ranging from short-term pain and disorientation to lifelong blindness. It may not be deadly, but it can be debilitating, and it may reduce overall survivability.”

Working closely with TARDEC, the ARL must characterize and match materials to existing Army ground vehicles.

TARDEC also works with CERDEC’s Night Vision Laboratory to “tap into their optical systems performance expertise,” said TARDEC program manager Robert Goedert. CERDEC uses sensor and sensor suite technologies to identify and target any opposing wartime force under any applicable battlefield conditions.

“It takes a lot of collaboration to transition technology into a vehicle acquisition cycle,” Goedert said. “The ground combat system’s parameters need to be understood by each of the organizations involved in the design process to ensure successful integration of the new hardware.”

Laser protection requires both development of advanced materials and new insight to optical systems. The development process involves constant rotation between the Laser Protection Team’s various departments and experts.

“Laser protection development has been a continuous cycle of research, testing, revising parameters, performance modeling, and then feeding it back through the cycle to develop system designs, which are then prototyped for demonstration,” Goedert said. “The partners on this project have been collaborating for over seven years, but the pinnacle of the effort is taking place right now with upcoming outdoor field tests that will embed ARL materials into TARDEC hardware.”


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